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Former Granger runs strong at Georgia

By Kevin Eckleberry

kevin.eckleberry@lagrangenews.com

ATLANTA – It’s not for everybody.

In the world of track and field, the steeplechase stands apart as something different, unorthodox, and dangerous.

It’s a physically-demanding event that asks so much from its participants.

There’s obviously the running aspect of it, but there’s also hurdling and jumping, and steeplechasers have to contend with something other track athletes don’t, and that’s a water hazard.

During the races that are usual 3,000 meters (1.84 miles), there are seven water jumps, and the hurdles the runners leap over are sturdy and unyielding, so a poorly executed jump can present a major health risk.

Taking all that into account, it takes a committed, and well-rounded athlete to take on the steeplechase challenge.

It’s a challenge that LaGrange High graduate  and current Georgia Bulldog Jonathan Pelham, took on with relish.

During his high-school days, Pelham was an exceptional distance runner, and his coach at the time suggested that he could have a future in the steeplechase.

When Pelham arrived at Georgia, he decided to give the steeplechase a whirl.

Pelham was red-shirted as a freshman, so he spent that year training and acclimating to the world of big-time college athletics.

When the 2017 track season came around, Pelham was ready to roll, and he excelled in the steeplechase this spring. In his final event earlier this month, Pelham finished 11th in the steeplechase at the SEC meet in Columbia, S.C.

“It’s not a high-school event, but coach (Brad) Wilson had mentioned this is maybe something you could do in college, something you might be good at,” Pelham said. “I thought about it, and then I started practicing for it last year. I never competed in it. I tried to get the technique down. And this year it really started clicking.”

Pelham’s breakthrough performance came during an event at Georgia Tech in February. Pelham finished second, just six seconds behind Alex Grady of Georgia Tech.

“I ran a (two-kilometer) steeple at Georgia Tech earlier in the year, and I got second. I missed first by a few seconds,” Pelham said. “At that point, I realized this was something I could potentially be pretty good at and compete in at the SEC level. So, with that in mind, I kept practicing, and started incorporating it more in my daily workouts, and daily routine. And then it just took off from there.”

Pelham had another second-place finish later in the season at the Spec Towns Invitational, and he came through with a personal-best time of nine minutes, 22 seconds at the Virginia Challenge in late April.

Then came in the SEC championship, which featured some of the best track-and-field athletes in the country, and Pelham established a new personal-best time of 9:17.

That was good enough for an 11th-place finish, and he was his team’s top finisher in the steeplechase.

“Eleventh was good,” Pelham said. “I was pleased with it. I just missed 10th. I think he beat me by 1/100ths of a second. But I was unbelievable fortunate and lucky to go to the SEC and run well there.”

Pelham said it was a great experience to be a part of the SEC championship.

“They’re world-class athletes there,” Pelham said. “And that’s part of the environment I’ve been a part of at Georgia, kind of encouraging me to be a better version of myself, because you’re competing at that level. It’s unbelievable, from sprints, jumps, throws. There is some unreal talent there, and it’s awesome to be a part of that.”

During the fall, Pelham was a member of the Georgia cross-country team, and he had some solid finishes.

In his collegiate debut, Pelham finished 21st with a time of 27:23 in the eight-kilometer race, and he had a personal-best time of 26:41 in the Commodore Classic.

Pelham excelled in cross country and track and field at LaGrange, and the coaches at Georgia saw enough in him to offer him an athletic scholarship.

Pelham was red-shirted as a freshman.

“It’s pretty common for distance runners, for the majority of them to red-shirt that first year, just because it is such a jump,” Pelham said. “So my whole class, except for one guy, red-shirted. If I had started traveling my freshman year, that first semester, that would have been probably a little overwhelming, because it was still a lot to handle this year as a sophomore. The process of traveling, the process of competing, it just adds another element of things to your schedule, and time management.”

While Pelham wasn’t competing, he was training, and was putting in the hours necessary to compete in the SEC, to be able to run with some of the best athletes in the country.

“You definitely have to be committed, and in it for the long haul, because it can wear on you,” Pelham said. “But being at Georgia has made it easy for me, just having a great group of guys to train with, a great team, an unbelievable staff. The community at Georgia has been absolutely phenomenal for me these past two years.”

This summer, Pelham is getting an opportunity to work in the office of governor Nathan Deal, which is keeping him busy.

Pelham isn’t going to skimp on his training, though.

For the next few months, Pelham will be training with Zack Sims, who was a senior on the 2016 track team at Georgia.

“I’m very fortunate,” Pelham said. “Zack Sims, he was a teammate of mine last year. He graduated, and he’s working at Turner Broadcasting. He still runs. So he’s going to be my training partner. So we run together regularly. Training in the summer, I’ve got some big goals in mind, and some big training schedules. Zach was a great leader on the team last year, and he’s an influence now. So he’s a great person to train with.”

This fall, Pelham will be back for his second cross-country season, and then in January, the indoor track season will begin and Pelham will be back at it as a steeplechaser.

“The goal for next year is cross country first, and help the team compete as best as we can in the SEC,” Pelham said. “And in track, I’d love to see my steeple time go down to somewhere around nine-flat, and if I could score in the SEC next year that would be huge. Scoring is top eight. Those are the goals I have after I train this summer.”