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A mentor on the mend

A hip problem kept Jackson from running in ’09, but it didn’t keep him from helping TMC

Posted: September 28, 2009 9:38 p.m.
Updated: September 29, 2009 4:55 a.m.

The Master's College cross country runner Jeff Jackson was forced to miss his senior season because of bursitis in his right hip. He was granted a medical redshirt, however, and is serving as a mentor to the team's younger runners while he rehabs.

 
Last year, then-junior Jeff Jackson set a new standard for distance running at The Master’s College.

He was the school’s 2008 Male Athlete of Year, set a team record in the 8,000-meter run and became the first Mustang runner to earn cross country All-American honors in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.

Coming into the 2009-10 academic year, expectations for Jackson where high.

Jackson’s expectations for himself were even higher.

But then his season took an unexpected detour in the first race of the season, when he was forced to withdraw due to pain in his hip.

It was just the tip of the iceberg.

“Going into this semester, we’ve trained hard and he’s done more work than he’s ever done,” says Mustangs men’s and women’s head cross country coach Zach Schroeder. “Jeff came into the fall in the best shape of his life, ready to contend for a national title.”

But during training, the pain in his right hip, which first developed in the spring, gradually became more pronounced.

And by the second mile of the Mustangs’ season-opening race in Fullerton on Sept. 5, the pain became too much to endure.

“To compete well, you can’t think about those things,” Jackson says. “But I went into the first race knowing this might be a bit of an issue, hoping I was just going to get out there and things were going to work out.”

A week later, his season was over.

Jackson had developed a severe case of ischial bursitis, an inflammation of the bursa, which lies between the pelvic bone and tendons essential to running, walking and common day-to-day activities.

According to Jackson’s doctor, the primary treatment is rest, and without it the condition was only going to get worse.

The team was left without its leader on the course.

“I talked to a lot of these guys as we recruited them. ‘You’ve got to come. We are going to have a great season,’” Jackson recalls. “What’s going through my head (now is), ‘I’m letting the team down, I’m abandoning them.’

“This is the end of the season and I put in a lot of work. Me and my wife stayed here this summer just to train with these guys.”

It wasn’t what the 22-year-old expected after a pair of stellar finishes last May in the 10,000-meter run and marathon at the NAIA Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Edwardsville, Ill.

The top six finishers earned All-American recognition.

In the 10,000, Jackson took a spill on the 10th lap and fell to the back of the pack. He battled back and took seventh.

The next day, he ran in the prelims of the marathon.

The day after that, the finals.

Again, seventh.

Mentally, he was primed for big things in 2009. Physically, the pain was too much to overcome.

In the meantime, Jackson’s expertise has transitioned into mentorship, particularly for two local products.

Freshmen Anthony Pizzo, a Canyon High graduate, and John Gilbertson, a Saugus native who graduated from Los Angeles Baptist, have become two such pupils, and Schroeder says they appear to the be future cornerstones for the program.

“All these guys are more talented than I was,” Jackson says of the young team that also includes Saugus graduate Camden McAlister, freshman Ryan Lambert and sophomore Zachary Nave. “Definitely there is talent, but I think the thing with (Pizzo and Gilbertson) is more just they’re a little bit ahead of the game in terms of focus.”

For their part, Pizzo and Gilbertson are listening and taking in everything the senior says.

“Jeff really cares about us because he never really had a team that he knew was going to be focused,” Pizzo says. “He knows that we have potential and he wants to channel all of his knowledge and experience to us so that we are prepared when we have to step into the bigger shoes.”

Gilbertson agrees and says that Jackson’s leadership extends beyond cross country.

“He’s taught me that you just keep your eyes focused on God,” Gilbertson says.

The two freshmen had many reasons for choosing The Master’s, including the family atmosphere and a sense of belonging.

There was one more thing.

“And we are Jeff Jackson fans too,” Pizzo says.

Although Jackson still has track in the spring, his cross country career may not be over at The Master’s College.

According to Schroeder, the senior was granted a medical redshirt by the NAIA on Monday, meaning the senior can return for the fall 2010 cross country season.

Already planning to finish up the remaining credits on his degree, and with the potential for improvement on an already talented squad, the forecast for next fall looks promising.

“Just think about where the guys are now and where they will be next year, it’s really exciting,” Jackson says. “That is honestly the reason why I came back, is more for them than for anything because, hey, I’m getting old and I have to get on with life pretty soon.”

But his motivation goes beyond the team and the season.

“There have been so many things that I’ve always done for myself and just kind of always end up failing,” Jackson says. “Because I want to glorify the Lord, it is a much higher standard, because I’m doing it for God, not just for people, for coaches or teammates, but for God. ... That is what drives the passion of it and why I am going to be back in the fall.”

Assistant cross country coach Amie Schroeder sees it.

However, Amie is not only a member of the coaching staff, she’s Jackson’s sister.

“I’ve been watching him since high school,” she says. “He’s my baby brother. Yeah, it makes it a lot more intense. It definitely adds a different dynamic to it. I obviously get pretty excited watching any of our athletes compete, but when it’s your brother, it takes it to a whole new level. So it’s definitely been tough watching him go through the injury.

“But I’m confident that God has bigger things planned and better things planned than even what I’ve imagined. I don’t think it is a coincidence. I think that God causes all things to work together for the good of those that love him and are seeking him and I think this injury is just going to make the team better for it and Jeff better for it. To see his response is pretty cool.”

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