CHS track sprinter Gauge Smith – who was named 2019 Male Track Athlete of the Year for Special District 4 – shows off all the medals he won at meets in 2019, his junior season. Gini Davis/The Creswell Chronicle
Like tenths of seconds on a race timer, Creswell High incoming senior Gauge Smith, 17, has been ticking off achievements as a sprinter.
In 2018, Smith won the district championship in the 300m hurdles and placed second in the 100m and 200m. At 3A state, he medaled in all three events, setting personal records in two.
In 2019, he claimed the district title in the 400m, placing second in the 100m, 200m and 300m hurdles. At state, he medaled in all four, placing second in the 400m. He was also named Special District 4 Male Track Athlete of the Year.
And if determination and hard work have anything to do with it, the accolades aren’t over.
”Last year I was kind of bummed I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped at state, because I was ranked first, part of the year, in the 100, 200 and 400,” Smith said. ”This year, I’m hoping to get redemption and bring home three state titles – and Male Athlete of the Year again; that was a pretty cool award to get.”
To maximize his title potential as his prep competition ”clock” runs out, he’s jettisoning the 300m hurdles in 2020. ”At district and state all my events have preliminaries and finals, and state is just a week after district, so it just got too tiring running so many events in one day,” Smith said. ”I ran the 300 at state for the team, because we won the district title and we did the math and thought if everybody did well, we could have a chance to win state.
”But I felt like if I hadn’t done it, I would’ve done better in my events – and not to be selfish or anything, but I really want to focus this year on winning my three state titles because it’s my last time doing it,” Smith said. ”And I’m not a technique hurdles guy, so it was just me jumping over the hurdle, sprinting to catch up, jumping the next hurdle…”
The 400m, also added with coach Jonathan Ferguson’s encouragement, has to Smith’s surprise become his favorite event.
”I thought I didn’t have the endurance for it – but the first time I ran it I had the fastest time in (3A) state,” he said. ”I like that it’s anybody’s race: you can be leading the whole way and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, vroom, somebody’s passing you. The adrenaline’s crazy in that race.”
Smith’s talent for competitive sprinting emerged similarly unexpectedly: ”I was always pretty fast as a kid, and in sixth grade there was no school basketball, so I did track and ended up being super good at it,” he said.
After passing up seventh-grade track ”because that year my main focus was basketball,” Smith has done both sports since eighth grade.
Although he’s been successful each year, ”these past two years I’ve taken it a lot more seriously,” Smith said. ”I didn’t used to train (in the off-season) – I’d just come to track practice in the spring after playing basketball and work my butt off; those first two weeks you’re just conditioning, conditioning, conditioning. But now I’m doing some weights to build up all the explosive, quick-trigger muscles so I can get more power coming out of the blocks.”
Those efforts will likely also enhance his basketball game: ”I can already jump really high, and those same explosive muscles help you in getting down the court – everything,” he said.
This summer, when not playing basketball (summer league concluded with last weekend’s Seaside Tournament) as a 6-foot, 175-pound forward for the Bulldogs or doing targeted weight training for track, Smith has been working for Brothers Plumbing, digging ditches, fetching tools, etc.
It’s a job he’s done the past two summers, and in it, Smith believes he’s found his future: ”When I started, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do as a profession, but I’ve ended up learning so much and really enjoying it, so now I want to apprentice,” he said. ”Sure, it would be cool to run track in college, but I’d rather get straight to work and start my life out, and you can make good money as a plumber.”
When not on the track or on the job, Smith is often on the hunt: ”I like to hunt a lot – pretty much anything Oregon has,” he said. ”It’s just fun to go out with my dad or my buddies; you make memories you’ll have for a lifetime.”
One memorable hunt came last August, when he bagged a cow elk. ”I try to put in for a lot of the controlled hunts, and only a few youth hunters got tags for that one,” Smith said. ”I went with my dad and my best friend, and I got it, so that was great.”
Setting goals, challenging himself, working hard and enjoying reaping the rewards are recurrent themes in every facet of Smith’s life, and not surprisingly, his advice to younger athletes striving for lofty goals centers around them.
”Adversity’s a big deal for younger athletes, but you’ve just got to push through it,” Smith said, recalling his how his eighth-grade or freshman track season might easily have been his last.
”I hurt myself both years: In eighth grade I pulled a hamstring going into state; I ran anyway, but it was really bad. In ninth grade, mid-season, I got a big knot in my quad and couldn’t get full extension, so I couldn’t get my times good enough to qualify for state,” Smith said.
”I hated it and kind of wanted to quit because it didn’t seem worth it, but I just kept working through it,” Smith added. As in work and life, ”you’ll face a lot of adversity in any sport; you just have to keep working hard for your goals and know that all of your training and hard work is going to pay off.”