Since childhood, James Jasperson had been a strong runner, often a successful runner, both at the club and high school levels.
But, too often, just as he reached the two-mile mark in a cross-country race, his toughest competitor would join him; a mysterious and “unbearable” side ache that would dog his steps over the final mile-plus of the standard 5-kilometer distance.
He and his family tried everything to combat the problem: acupuncture, ultrasound, deep tissue massage, better nutrition. Nothing helped.
Then Jasperson, who will lead the North Thurston boys into Saturday’s WIAA cross-country state championships in Pasco with personal goals of breaking 16 minutes and finishing in the Top 20,
solved the problem himself.
“I started to realize that sometimes in bigger meets, where there were so many strong competitors around, I would get distracted and it wouldn’t happen, Jasperson said. “So now, when I feel a side ache coming on, I find something to distract myself with – another runner’s stride, anything to take my mind off it – and I’m fine.”
Rams coach Heidi Perry, who has known Jasperson since he was 7 years old, said that’s when she knew he had taken a big step as a competitor.
“James developed his own tools to deal with it,” Perry said. “He worked on his breathing and some other things to reduce stress. A mind-over-body thing. Once he realized he could get himself over that obstacle, he really became a mature athlete.”
Jasperson’s maturity led him to become the driving force behind a voluntary offseason training program that has vaulted both the North Thurston boys and girls into this season’s state meet.
“The best part of this is the whole team going to state, not just myself or one or two other runners,” Jasperson said. “Over the summer, I contacted every single person I knew wanted to run and told them if they wanted to make varsity, if they wanted us to get to state, we needed to practice. Every day we had 10 or 12 guys out there working.”
Hallie Whitney, another Rams senior, filled a similar role with the girls team.
“Those two made it a real team in their senior years, which is so great to see,” Perry said.
Jasperson, who is a standout 800- and 1,600-meter runner in the spring, makes no secret he feels more at home on a track than a cross-country course but thoroughly enjoyed this fall.
“This was the best cross-country season of my entire life,” said Jasperson, who won the 3A Narrows League championship two weeks ago before finishing fifth in the Westside Classic last weekend. “Not because of the times I ran (he had career 5K best of 16:13.3 at the Fort Steilacoom Invitational in September) but because of the people who are on the team with me. I am very thankful for that.”
Few who follow distance running in the South Sound haven’t heard the name Jasperson. James’ father, Phil, was a star on the great Timberline track and field teams of the mid-1980s. He went on to win five Capital City Marathons between 1990-2003 and run in the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials.
“I would not be who I am today without my dad,” said James. “I can remember when I was 6-, 7-, 8-years old and my dad was always right there beside me when I trained. There’s not been a time when my dad did not run with me or push me to go on a run.”
James feels some pressure being his father’s son, so he keeps his dad’s records in sight as benchmarks, goals to beat.
“It pushes me every day to better myself,” he said.
WIAA state cross-country championships
Saturday, Sun Willows Golf Course, Pasco
Tickets: $9 for adults, $7 for students/senior citizens.
Schedule: 2B/1B girls, 10 a.m.; 1A girls, 10:30 a.m.; 2A girls, 11 a.m.; 2B/1B boys, 11:30 a.m.; 1A boys, noon, 3A girls, 12:30 p.m., 4A girls, 1 p.m.; 2A boys, 1:30 p.m.; 3A boys, 2 p.m.; 4A boys, 2:30 p.m.
The lowdown: It could be an eventful day for South Sound girls teams in Pasco. Every year since the race was formed for B schools (2B and 1B) in 2006, Northwest Christian girls have captured the team title. The top-ranked Navigators have a good chance at winning No. 8 behind junior Anna Brooks and freshman Kiersten Kimminau, who won last week’s District IV 2B/1B title. … Capital easily won the 2A Evergreen Conference championships and the 2A District IV title for a second consecutive year behind Lauren Pierson and Kat Copeland, but do the Cougars have what it takes to upset Sehome of Bellingham? No girls team outside of 2B/1B has been more dominant than the Mariners, who were state champions from 2006-10, then again last fall, scoring 40 points. The times for Pierson (18 minutes, 49.1 seconds) and Copeland (18:54.8) rank eighth and ninth, respectively, in 2A. … Gig Harbor, the country’s top-ranked boys team, is an overwhelming favorite to win its second 4A team title in three seasons, but Olympia’s Peter Kesting comes into state as the 4A West Central District champion. Four-time state participant Sofia Kane, who placed fourth at state a year ago for the Bears, looks to be in postseason form after a hip injury early in the season. … Capital’s Ben Monk has the third-best time for 2A boys (15:39.9).email@example.com