Wristen: Bowman runs the line
Most distance runners achieve legendary status because they are fast.
That's not Jason Bowman's style.
Of course, he's not slow, either. He's somewhere in between, and even that is a bit surprising at first glance.
Bowman doesn't kid himself when he steps on the track. He knows that in all likelihood he isn't going to win the race. After all, only one person or one relay team wins a race. Plus, there's the fact that he lacks some of the physical attributes generally possessed by top-tier distance runners - height, long strides, thin physique.
Still, Bowman doesn't care. Nobody's going to tell this defensive lineman he can't run distance.
That's right: defensive lineman.
Bowman, a Lansing High senior, was a nose guard on the LHS football team last fall. He had 37 tackles and a half-sack. He could squat 365 pounds and bench press 295. None of that screams "distance runner."
Then again, you can count on one hand the number of linemen who come out for distance in track. Usually, linemen who do track are throwers. They'll step on the track only when participating in a thrower's relay. There's nothing wrong with that. That's just the way it is.
But Bowman is different. He didn't want to throw. He gave it a try after his friend and football teammate Brian Cordes talked him into going out for track, but one day of throwing was enough for Bowman.
"I knew I could run, and I decided throwing wasn't for me," he said.
So he tracked down distance coach Melanie King and asked her if he could run.
"I thought he was kidding," King admitted. "So I said, 'Okay, give it a try,' because I'll tell pretty much anybody that. And then he came out and shocked the heck out of me the first day."
It turned out Bowman hadn't continued to pump iron once football ended. Instead, he'd begun an every-other-day routine of running five miles on the treadmill. In doing so, he slimmed down from 210 pounds to 185. He still wasn't light by distance standards, but he was light enough to cruise around the track at a steady clip.
Plus, he was mentally and physically tougher than most other runners.
"He is, hands down, one of the gutsiest athletes I've worked with," King said. "And those are the fun ones."
One of Bowman's most impressive attributes has been his willingness to take on every challenge and do it with a positive attitude. The first track meet of his life - the Baldwin Invitational on March 31 - is a prime example. Most experienced distance runners won't run the 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs all in the same meet. But Bowman did.
He started his day by running the first leg of the 4X800-meter relay. He then ran the 3,200 and the 1,600. For those keeping track, that's 3 1/2 miles of competitive racing.
And here's how Bowman started his first race: Just 300 meters into the relay, he bolted to the front of the pack. He didn't hold his position for very long, but he gave it a shot and pushed the pace.
"The first lap we go through, and they're announcing times," Bowman said. "I PR'd (set a personal record) on my 400 time on the first lap."
Setting a PR is great for any runner, but "It's a bad way to start my 800!" Bowman laughed, noting that he was unable to maintain his pace.
Most of Bowman's teammates likely cringed when they saw him take the lead early in the race because they knew he'd gone out too fast. King thought different.
"From what I've seen in practice, I was thinking, 'Go Jason!'" King said. "Because I know he does things that you wouldn't think were physically possible, but he's so gutsy and so willing to give it everything he has every single time. Every day. Every practice. And he has such a positive attitude about everything, always."
Bowman's character and work ethic have rubbed off on Lansing's distance runners, most of whom are freshmen and sophomores. It's the type of leadership a young bunch of runners need.
"He's definitely a real good influence," sophomore Griffin Davis said. "When we practice, he doesn't cut out easily. He works to his fullest potential. He definitely is one of the toughest guys on the team."
Bowman jokes about what runners behind him must think when they see a defensive lineman ahead of them on the track. "I imagine they're thinking 'This guy is huge. How's he beating me?'"
But those who run with him and coach him think different. They know what he's doing is as out-of-the-ordinary as it comes for track and field. It's just so rare to see a lineman run distance, but it's a move that demands respect. Other runners may be faster, but they know Bowman will work painfully hard to catch them. His teammates find inspiration in that.
"The other athletes, they look at this and they see how amazing it is what he's doing," King said. "They see it in practice. They saw it today. And it's not just the distance kids. It's the whole team, and he's rubbing off on those younger kids in a really positive way."