May 1, 2001
By Mike Kreiger
Distance runner Jon Welsh knows first hand what hard work is all about.
The junior from Carmichael, Calif., is in the Army ROTC. His experiences include everything from jumping out of planes to weapons training.
"My plans are to become an infantry officer," Welsh said. "I'm airborne qualified, and this summer I'll be serving in the 1st Special Forces at Fort Lewis (Wash.). I want to be a Green Beret.
"We get to shoot guns and we're the guys who get called first in conflict. Joining the Army allows me to have an impact on our nation, as well as myself. It's also made me become a leader as an officer. We put a lot on the line in the infantry, especially knowing we could be deployed at anytime."
There are some similarities between running track and serving in the ROTC.
Running below his standards last season, Welsh felt he was one of the weak links on the WSU team. He worked on his endurance this summer and was motivated by teammates during the cross-country season in the fall.
"I would say track allows me to be more independent as an individual," Welsh said. "The Army makes me realize that you're only as strong as your weakest link.
"When I first came here last year, I expected (Olympic medallist) Kip Lagat to be here," Welsh said. "I figured I would have a supporting role. When he wasn't here, it was a big shock to me, and I was pushed into a leading role. I ran one or two good races, but nothing that really impressed me. Instead of being content, I needed to be working and competing against the clock. When I came back this fall for cross-country, Oscar (Franco-Parra) beat me. That influenced me to really focus. It helped me realize that I'm not only competing against my teammates and opponents, but I'm going up against every runner in the nation.
"If I'm really going to be great, I have to beat everybody."
This season Welsh has found "a new speed for the mile and the 800m" that has helped carry over to his distance events as well. Welsh won the steeplechase with a time of 9:07.74 during the April 14 meet against Idaho and Eastern Washington.
"The steeplechase is probably the most fun event on the track," Welsh said. "It's also one of the most painful events. The jumps tire you out. Then you have to fight each hurdle and your fatigue compounds throughout the race. The water plays a substantial role. If the water wasn't there, I could run very fast. Hitting something that cold tightens up your muscles and shocks your body."
Despite the difficulties of the distance races, the Cougar coaching staff knows Welsh always pushes himself toward excellence.
"Jon Welsh is a tough guy," Cougar Track Coach Rick Sloan said. "And I like tough guys. He might get in a race where somebody else has a faster time or may be a more talented runner, but I'll take the tough guys in those situations. They don't care that they aren't supposed to win and they don't let anybody stand in their way."
Since Welsh has six brothers, it makes sense he learned a lot from his older siblings.
"My brother David was my track influence," Welsh said. "He was a distance runner and showed great talent for it. I have a very competitive family, and we all want to do better than everybody else. We all turned to sports as a way to be the best. My brothers and my parents were my biggest influence. My father James is a competitor and he always pushed me to settle for nothing less than my best."
Welsh's older brother Dan was his influence to join the Army.
"I wanted to be like him, join the Army ROTC and become a soldier," Welsh said. "The thing I've learned the most is that you have to lead by example. We lead from the front."
A political science major with an interest in pre-law, Welsh plans on going into the military and later pursuing a law degree. When Welsh is done with his education, he would like to live in the rural northwest.
"The moment I stepped off the plane, I knew this is where I wanted to come," said Welsh, who had been attending Eastern Tennessee State. "I saw the wheat fields and knew this is the place for me. It has the whole college atmosphere and it's a great place."
Welsh's favorite event is the 10,000m and he has a goal in sight.
"I want to qualify for the NCAA Championships," he said.
After his career in Pullman ends, Welsh will enter the Army full-time without any worries.
"You can never foresee the circumstances of your deployment. I could be killed, but that's part of the appeal to me. We're playing with the highest stakes."
Welsh is an athlete who gives 110 percent in everything he does. From the track to the military battlefield, Welsh is the kind of guy any coach or general would want on their side.