Hooton races to world juniors

Former swimmer finds his stride on the track in 10,000-metre race

It took a little bit of time for North Vancouver's Jesse Hooton to get used to "running on earth," but once he got the knack of it he raced all the way to the IAAF World Junior Championships.

Hooton grew up as a competitive swimmer but as he entered high school at Handsworth secondary he soured on the sport and dropped out.

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"I just got really tired of it and ended up loathing the thought of being in a pool," he said. "I no longer had any fun doing it."

He then proceeded to sit around a lot. After nearly a year, however, he got the urge to get back into shape and hit the gym.

"I just started running on the treadmill at the gym, just sort of tagging along with my parents or whoever was going to the gym," he said. "For the first six months of my running career it was almost entirely on the treadmill."

Back at Handsworth for his Grade 11 year, Hooton made the decision to try his new legs on solid ground, joining the cross-country running team. It went well - eventually.

"I was always used to racing from swimming, so it was something that I was comfortable with, but I was definitely comfortable with the treadmill and it took a little time to get used to running on earth."

He got used to it fast enough to earn the attention of the coaches at Vancouver's Hershey Harriers Athletic Club, eventually gaining a spot on the UBC Track and Field team. As a first-year university racer last season, Hooton participated in a number of races for UBC, including one 10,000-metre race, his first ever attempt at the distance, at the UBC Open at the end of March.

Hooton's time of 31 minutes and 24.92 seconds was the fastest run by a Canadian junior up to that point in the racing season, potentially qualifying him for the World Junior Championships. Hooton was a little surprised to be in that position - he'd never represented Canada in anything - but also knew that there was plenty of season left for other more experienced racers to beat his time.

So he waited and watched, watched and waited.

"Almost every day I was checking out Athletics Canada and looking at the rankings there, fingers crossed that my time held," he said. "With a couple of weeks left in the qualifying period it still held, and only then did it start to seem like it might be a possibility to become a reality to go to this meet. And sure enough it held."

Hooton had one more hurdle to clear earlier this month, needing to post a good time while running the 5,000-m race at the 2014 Canadian Junior Track and Field Championships to prove he was still in top shape. Hooton finished fifth in a time of 15:07.57, solidifying his spot in the world championships. With that, he'll go from never having competed internationally to lining up against the best juniors in the world.

"I feel really lucky. I'm also really proud and at the same time humbled to be going," he said. "It's been a long time coming to get to this meet that has been my No. 1 goal for the season.. .. It's kind of surreal at the moment. It hasn't really sunk in."

It's going to sink in soon. Hooton left for Eugene, Ore., on Friday and he'll race the 25-lap 10,000 m on Tuesday, the opening day of the championships.

"My goal was always to make the team so I never really pictured myself getting this far," he said with a laugh when the North Shore News caught up with him last week. "I still have to take some time and sit down and think about what I want to do in Eugene. The goal was always to make the team and now that I have I haven't thought too hard about what's actually going to happen once I get there."

The fact that it will be his first time representing Canada has added to the excitement of the event.

"It's going to be added pressure, I think, but at the same time it's going to be really fun. I'll be OK - I won't freak out too much," he said with a laugh, adding that he's excited to compete in Eugene, a spiritual home for track and field.

"There's lots of big names that have come out of that facility," he said. "It's going to be really cool for sure. It's always been something I've wanted to do, let alone race the biggest race of my life."

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