MONMOUTH — Justin Crosswhite has a lot to look forward to next year.
Coming back for a fifth year — and a final season of outdoor track and field eligibility — at Western Oregon University; starting a master’s program; and training to compete at the USA Track and Field championships meet.
These opportunities come on the back of circumstances Crosswhite didn’t expect: Missing the chance to represent WOU in the distance medley relay in the National Collegiate Athletics Association indoor national championships in Birmingham, Alabama, with three of his teammates, followed by his senior outdoor track season being canceled.
“It all happened really quickly, everything switched quick,” Crosswhite said, recalling that afternoon on March 12, when the news came through that the nationals meet was canceled because of the coronavirus. The team was at the track in Birmingham, preparing to race the next day.
“We were at premeet, shaking out, doing our last handoffs for the relay, and those felt good, we felt really good,” Crosswhite said. “And then 15 minutes after we left the track, I was refreshing my twitter feed and saw that all spring and winter championships had been canceled. That was pretty rough. We were all in the van together, and I just remember looking up and saying, ‘guys, it’s over. And everyone just came to the realization that we weren’t going to have the opportunity to show what we could do.”
As Mike Johnson, former head track and field coach, and assistant coach Zach Holloway made plans to make the trip back to the west coast, Crosswhite and his teammates Derek Holdsworth, Gabe Arce-Torres and Max Carmona went out to dinner together.
“We were pretty disappointed, but we were like, ‘well, we’re going to make the best of it,’” Crosswhite said. “So … we went to Cookout, which is one of Derek’s (Holdsworth) favorite places. He’s from the midwest/east coast area, so we went there and we got dressed up still like we were going to the NCAA banquet, and still had fun. And then we went on a run late that night, for fun too.”
Heading back home the following day, instead of racing in the championships, was tough.
“We needed one more day to race, just one more day to get it done,” he said. “It still doesn’t feel real. It’s all just unfinished business, is what we’re calling it. We knew what we were capable of, but we’ll never get the opportunity to show that. It’s what I’ve looked forward to for the last two years. But I wouldn’t have wanted to be at the meet with any other group of guys. They were a blast to be with. And coach Johnson as well.”
In June, Crosswhite will graduate with his undergrad, and then he’ll begin the Organizational Leadership program in the fall at WOU.
“I was originally going to go to Oregon State University,” Crosswhite said. “But I don’t want to not use my eligibility. It’s a pretty good opportunity; I can help the team transition too. I’m pretty excited for it.”
Things will look a little different next year with Johnson stepping down at the end of the month.
“It will be really sad to not see (Johnson) every day, but I also know the team is in really good hands,” Crosswhite said. “Coach Gillepsie and Coach Holloway are both phenomenal coaches, and I’m really excited to work with them more. It’s going to be way different, but I know Johnson is always there. He’ll always be watching.”
Crosswhite will run unattached for the fall cross-country season and indoor track season, and then run as a part of the team in the spring.
“I didn’t see myself ever being here for a fifth year on the team, but I think it’s a good opportunity to continue that leadership,” Crosswhite said. “Because every year you learn so much more about running especially, there’s so much you can take in, so I think being able to share that is important.”
Being unattached means he can support the team while also training for the USA meet at the same time, which is a meet organized by USA Track and Field and serves as the national championships as the sport.
He’ll attempt to run in the mile, which means running a mark of 3:59 or faster.
The desire to compete on a bigger stage had always been a dream for Crosswhite, but it took its formal shape following the decision to come back next year.
“It’s always been on my mind, but I definitely think this time is a good opportunity to make it happen,” he said. “I can still have my priority be for the team, but not having that indoor season is the perfect opportunity to give myself something else to look at, at the same time.”
In the meantime, Crosswhite is running on his own.
“I’ve just been having fun with it. I’ve been running a lot still, but just enjoying it,” he said. “I’m just making sure I’m enjoying running right now, and then hoping we have some races this summer, or races in the fall, so I’m looking forward to those.”