A bruised and battered Luke Gaddis continues to conquer the unimaginable.
The Chestatee High School rising junior and Lanier Running Club member won gold in the 2000-meter steeplechase and 3000-meter race last weekend at the Junior Olympics Regional Championships in Rock Hill, S.C.
This came two weeks after winning his first steeplechase at Georgia’s Junior Olympics State Championships.
“It’s been hard to digest, especially for me still being young,” Gaddis said. “I get all my blessings from God and I can’t get too cocky or too boastful.”
It’s a total surprise to his coach, Wes Wessely, who’s never seen an athlete manage their way to the National Championships this quickly while being as fast as Gaddis.
Growing up, Gaddis could never be contained to one area. To the amazement of his parents, they could never pry him from his bike. He’s very determined, and the characteristic only continues to grow.
And so does his resume.
Along with running cross country, long and short distance track, steeplechase has broadened his collegiate appeal. As Wessely told The Times a few weeks back, college coaches will flock to his feet if he continues his success in steeplechase.
The question is whether Gaddis wants to stick with the difficult track event. Track athletes tend to stray from the somewhat dangerous race, though those that go against the grain are more likely to score scholarships at the next level.
Gaddis experienced the risk first hand during Friday’s 11 a.m. event, and the effects are still visible nearly a week later. The race’s last steeplechase barrier caught his right knee, throwing the 5-foot-9, 126 pound athlete forward. He popped up immediately, looked back at the competition and sprinted full force toward the finish line. In the moment, he was focused solely on finishing the race.
The fall “shook” him and instigated an adrenaline rush. He would not feel the swelling around his right knee or notice the purplish black bruise until he crossed the white finish line.
He and his mom, Christy, headed straight to the medical tent afterward for ice and ibuprofen.
The 3000-meter race came next — Saturday morning at 8 a.m.
Ten times Gaddis iced his knee after Friday’s race. He was skeptical he would be ready for what was to come.
But Saturday’s result was no different, as the Junior Olympic newcomer won gold in the 3000-meter race.
The amount of time and preparation he put into the regionals mirrored his previous races. He never took a day off during his family vacation in Myrtle Beach, running through hilly topography to build his stamina.
“His dedication blows me away as far as (me being) an adult and just seeing other kids,” Christy Gaddis said.
Luke Gaddis’s second attempt ever at the steeplechase yielded the same results as the first. While he was more confident this time around, he pinpointed one of his favorite sayings from Wessely as his motivation: “Respect everyone. Fear no one.”
Comparisons don’t consummate success.
Though the Junior Olympics State Championships leveraged a possible beginner’s luck accusation, regionals legitimized Gaddis’s talent. National recognition comes next, but the rising junior will have to wait until 2020.
“He has had an oral surgeon appointment that we’ve canceled three times because of other running events,” Christy Gaddis said with a laugh. “We kind of need to get this done before cross country (season) and cross country Junior Olympics.”
The wait, prompted by the removal of his wisdom teeth, has only excited Luke Gaddis for the future.
“We found out that next year’s nationals race is in Jacksonville,” Christy Gaddis said. “So immediately when we got in the car (after winning regionals), he says, ‘2020 in Jacksonville. Just plan on being there. Go ahead and mark your calendar; we’re going to be there.’”