Owatonna Family Jumps for Joy and Championships
Owatonna's Justin Gleason might have genetics in his favor, but the long jumper still had to overcome a big hurdle to win a state title at the Minnesota State High School League championships this month. Gleason, whose father Joey is his coach and whose mother Debby is the Huskies' girls head coach, wrapped up his junior season with a school-record leap of 23 feet, 1.75 inches and a gold medal. But plenty went into reaching that accomplishment.
Gleason broke his leg last summer, "It was July of last year during a basketball tournament. So I had to battle back." The mishap occurred shortly after setting a school long jump record during his sophomore season and placing fourth at the state meet. "I didn't know if I was ever going to get back to jumping at what I was at before. So I had the motivation to keep working on my leg strength."
He felt recovered by the end of the football season last fall and began to focus on this spring's track season, "I set the mindset that I wanted to be a state champion. And I got it done," he said. "It feels pretty cool. At first, it didn't really seem real...It seems almost like a dream becoming reality. I've had a passion for it for a long time."
His first-place medal adds to the family haul. Joey won the long jump as a senior at Minnesota Valley Lutheran in 1995, where he also placed second in the 100 and 200 for the state championship-winning team. "I found my high school medal [last night] and I was going to show Justin today," Joey said. Debby was a champion high jumper at the high school level multiple times and a three-time national champion and All-America in NCAA Division II while competing for Augustana.
The winning and school-record leap was 23 feet, 1.75 inches. He had just scratched on an impressive jump before that, "So I knew I had the jump in me. But as soon as I jumped that one, I walked over to the tape right away because I knew it felt good. Then I saw them roll it out past 23 and I just got goosebumps through my body...I was real excited."
Joey said the season progressed nicely, "Now this year he started off the year right away jumping 21s and hit 22 several times. That's a big jump for a high schooler." He felt there was a 23 in Justin's future. "His second jump, I wished they would have measured it. It was massive. He scratched by about an inch. He even told me, 'Dad, when I got done I was so high up in the air I didn't know what to do.'"
Justin's winning jump during the finals left Joey and other coaches with a sense of awe, "Sure enough that third jump was just huge. I've got a video...You can hear the coaches in the background after he hits it. They all go, 'Whoa.' It was cool. I was just so proud." He added that it's pretty stressful as a coach, let alone being a parent as well.
The long jump has gotten more technical in the way the athletes approach their final couple of steps and how they place their hips. Analytics that weren't instituted for Joey while jumping for MVL or in his college days. "I always tell kids when we start the year, Look, I'm a little bit bitter. I may have won and that's great and everything...But I didn't know how to do a penultimate step...I say I'm always mad that no one taught me that. We're going to focus on this big time." Joey's winning jump in 1995 was just shy of 22 feet.
For those who like number coincidences, Justin's 23-feet-plus jump came on the 23rd anniversary of his parents. While Justin's 22-foot-plus effort during the 2021 state meet hit at the time of his folks' 22nd anniversary. Joey pondered, "I hate to jinx anything...It was 22, 23 could we get a 24 next year. Maybe." The Minnesota state meet record is 24 feet, 9.25 inches.
"I think it's kind of cool. I've been raised up in the track community," Justin said. "They both were state champions in high school."
Justin's been involved in track events since third grade, or maybe even earlier. Joey said in about fifth grade Justin won at a Junior Olympics meet and Joey thought, "Well maybe one day. You never know."
Justin can see himself improving during the coming months from a speed standpoint and the technical aspect of the sport. There are various summer track events that he will attend, "Who knows where the limit is."
He just missed qualifying for state in the triple jump, where he also holds the OHS record. But he feels the ability to totally focus on the long jump was beneficial at the state meet. Justin was also thankful to have teammate Tanner Stendel at state with him.
Justin also runs some short sprints and was part of the 4-by-200 relay that just missed advancing to state while still setting a school record at the section meet. The Huskies finished third at the state True Team meet and fifth in the standard MSHSL meet. They also won the Big Nine title. "It's really cool because it's not all up to you and I think training alongside everyone you push each other and we knew we wanted to be great this year," Justin said.