IU Kokomo introduced an indoor track-and-field program this year, and one athlete already has begun earning national accolades.
Senior Grant Gaylor has become the face of the program after receiving several recognitions from the River States Conference. Gaylor, a shot put thrower, was named the indoor track and field player of the week twice for his two meets this season and a co-champion of character.
“It feels pretty good. I’ve put in a lot of work and a lot of time into throwing and trying to get better, so it feels good to finally have some accomplishments I can look at and see my work,” he said. “I was kind of expecting [to win the meet] as long as I did what I was supposed to do.”
Gaylor set a record in shot put with a score of 16.63 meters and now ranks sixth in the nation. Gaylor is moving onto NAIA nationals this week, and he’s looking forward to the stiffer competition. He won his most recent shot put championship by more than two meters, so he wants a bigger test.
Along with Gaylor, junior Lexi Jackson also was named co-champion of character. The award is given to athletes who demonstrate sportsmanship and integrity. Jackson is ninth in the nation after winning the 5k in the most recent meet. Jackson will travel to nationals as well on Saturday.
Jason VanAlstine, cross country and track and field coach at IUK, said he expected big things from Gaylor, who performed well in his first meet. In the second meet, he expected him to be the champion but didn’t expect him to win the athlete of the year since he only participated in one event (shot put) when the award usually goes to someone who participates in more than one.
“Usually that goes to somebody that would win several events, but … he got a meet record. He beat the nearest competitor by two meters. It was just such an impressive performance in that one event that they decided to give that to him over some other people that they were considering,” VanAlstine said.
VanAlstine said this was the highest award anyone has received, male or female in cross country or track, in the program’s history.
IUK’s program has had track for four years and had been moving toward having indoor track in recent years.
At first there were just distance runners and then sprinters, but throwing was added this year to help with recruiting.
During Gaylor’s first three years at IUK, he was throwing in independent competitions and continuing to train. Knowing this, VanAlstine said Gaylor was under his nose the whole time.
“We added throws, and it turns out Grant’s been at IUK this entire time as a nursing student just doing his thing. He’s been training on his own, going to some college meets, and competing unattached. We didn’t really have a lot of information on him beyond just his high school information. It’s hard to find people when they’re competing unattached. And to have him come in, he’s actually throwing so much better than he did in high school,” VanAlstine said. “It’s a big difference. I love to coach the guy, but honestly, he deserves all the credit for this. He’s worked his butt off for three years with very little coaching ... It’s a great way to kick off the first year of having indoor.”
Gaylor graduated from Northwestern where he threw for four years. He credited the school for keeping him on the right track, no pun intended, with training and preparing for the next level.
They pushed him to keep throwing and practicing even if he couldn’t do it in college. Gaylor wanted to see if he could get better and kept to the course until finally IUK presented him with an opportunity to compete.
Fast forward to two meets later, and Gaylor is sixth in the nation and ready to go to nationals to build on his accolades.
“I’m definitely grateful for this opportunity. I was not 100-percent sure that this would happen. I’d been trying to join the track team for a couple years, but they just never thought about adding throwers. I’m really glad that I was able to, in my last year, contribute to the team and to the program,” Gaylor said.
Gaylor will compete at NAIA nationals this Saturday, March 6, for a chance to build on his rapidly-expanding resume at IUK.