TRACK: Yowell Only Lives Once

Marlin Agoub/New University

“I was always the fastest kid on the block,” senior hurdler Jacob Yowell said.

The North Torrance native joined USA Track and Field in the seventh grade, and unknown to the future UC Irvine athlete, fate dealt him a sweet hand to craft the perfect hurdler.

Yowell’s first event as a runner was the 800 meter — a race just over two laps around the track. An event that requires  both speed and endurance, athletes generally agree that the 800 meter is one of the most difficult events in the sport.

Standing at 6-foot 3-inches, Yowell has a head on the majority of his competition. He has always possessed a unique set of skills.  Knowing that his body type wasn’t typical for his event, Yowell eventually converted to from the 800 to the 400-meter hurdles.  He became a runner whose talent, skill set, training and body combined to pose a unique threat.

“[The 400 meter] is the best for me, because I’m quick, but I’m not fast enough to compete nationally in the [110-meter hurdles],” the fifth-year sociology major said. “The reason why I like the 400 the most, is because it fits me best as an athlete.”

“I am tall, I have long legs, [and] a very open stride. I’m strong as an athlete, as a runner … and I can hurdle.”

In 2007, Yowell was named the Pioneer League MVP, setting his high school’s records in the 300-meter intermediate hurdles and in the 4×100-meter relay.

Out of high school, Yowell attended El Camino College where he was the 2009 South Coast Conference champion in the 400-meter hurdles and earned All-American honors. The success prompted a transfer to OC’s UC in 2009.

Yowell committed to UCI, along with teammate Dominic Jester, based on an arrangement that spanned three years.  Both athletes would redshirt one season and run in two so that Jester and Yowell would compete together in their senior campaigns. Yowell took the track first in the 2009-2010 season and ran the first leg in the most memorable race of his track career.

It was the Big West Championship and Yowell was preparing to compete in a number of races. To mitigate his anxiety, the first-year completed his traditional pre-race routine that he describes as a mix between dancing, singing and warming up.  After competing in five events that day, Yowell was to run in the 4×400 on a team that included Charles Jock, Tim Murphy and George Hernandez.

“I had already competed in five events,” said Yowell, “so I went up to my coach and said, ‘I don’t know what I can give you, but I’m going to give you what I’ve got,’ and, we won.”

The men in blue and gold placed first in the Big West with a time of 3:09.43.

“Everyone ran really, really good that day.  And we were all excited afterwards, and took a bunch of pictures,” he said.  “[Everyone] was cheering, our team was behind us and we did our clap bread-down from the podium, it was good.”

Now in the midst of his senior season and the home stretch of his  college athletic career, Yowell is running his way into the record books.  Setting two meet records at UCI’s Spring Break Invitational on March 24, Yowell placed first in the 110-meter hurdles with a time of 13.91 — ranking second all-time in school history.

Just shy of the 13.80 mark set in 1983, Yowell is out to claim the record as his own.  Not only does the senior want to set the record, he wants to run it with a time that his successors will have trouble breaking.

With three Big West Athlete of the Week honors in the month of March alone, Yowell is on his way to completing his goal of holding the school records in the 110-meter hurdles and the 400-meter hurdles.

“There aren’t that many people that [run at the level] I’m running at, running sub-14 in the hurdles,” said Yowell. “There are less people that have done that than have played college basketball, or have played professional basketball.  Where I’m at with my athleticism, not many people can do what I do.”

With an ultimate goal of making the Olympic trials this June, Yowell hopes to secure a sponsorship following the season.

“I eat, sleep and breathe track and field,” Yowell said. “If track was a class I’d have a 4.0 [GPA], that’s how serious track is to me.”

While fate led Yowell to the hurdles, it is his dedication, hours spent running Turtle Rock — a steep inclined hill just miles down Campus Drive — and his love for the sport that makes him a runner to be reckoned with.

“Track is my life,” he said.

With all the Charles Jock hype that swirls around UCI’s track and field program, there lies an under-the-radar athlete in Jacob Yowell that has the confidence, work ethic and talent needed to challenge for NCAA recognition and the Olympic qualifiers in 2012.