Gage Leavitt was supposed to toe the starting line at the Pasco Invitational this morning.
The Kiona-Benton High School senior was planning to follow a long family tradition of racing at Edgar Brown Stadium.
But for a second consecutive year, Gage’s right hamstring didn’t cooperate.
He tweaked the muscle Tuesday during a league meet in Benton City and pulled out of today’s 110-meter hurdles at the invitational, one of the largest one-day meets in the western United States. The Pasco Invite features 110 teams from Washington, Oregon and Idaho, and more than 1,400 athletes.
Gage still will compete today, but he won’t be wearing his lucky blue Nike shoes — 13-year-old spikes first worn by his older brother Barry, who won multiple state championships in them.
“I think it’s really cool to make it to the Pasco Invite,” Gage said of qualifying. “Before I hurt myself, I was really hoping I could’ve done well and placed decent, but I guess now all I can really focus on is the state championship.”
Gage picked up the shot put this year to diversify his events, and he has done well at it so far this short season. He threw 46 feet, 8 inches earlier this year and hopes to top 50 feet before the season is over.
“They are slowly getting better and better,” he said of his distances. “(I did it so) I could branch out, I guess.”
Leavitt qualified for the Pasco Invite last year, but popped the same hamstring while trying to clear the second hurdle. It was an injury that changed the dynamic of his junior season, knocking him out until the sub-district meet.
He still went to state, but his dreams of winning a state title and adding his name to the wall listing state champions at his high school were all but dashed because of the injury.
“I was kind of mad when it first happened,” he said. “I kind of jokingly get pressured at school because in the gym they got all the names up there (for state champs). A lot of Leavitts and I’m the only one not up there — yet.
“I thought last year, ‘this was my year to make the state championship.’ ”
After shaking off the disappointment of the injury, he went back to work in the offseason, and his efforts are paying off.
He has earned victories in two of the three meets he has competed in, including running a “near-perfect” race in Ephrata, according to his coach Stuart Allen.
“He is running (personal best times) at the beginning of the year,” Allen said. “He works hard. He doesn’t do other sports besides track. You look at the kid and you are thinking wide receiver or something, but he is down here working out during the winter time.”
That work ethic — shared by the other Leavitt siblings — is what has helped the family to be so successful on the track.
It started with oldest brother Devin, then followed with Barry, who won two state titles in the 110 hurdles and competed at the state level. Next up was Holden, who won state titles in the 110 and 300 hurdles before hanging up his spikes when he graduated high school.
After that was sister Whitney, who is one of a handful of female athletes in Washington history to be a four-time state champion in two events.
She competes at Eastern Washington University and is out this year on a medical red shirt.
Next is Gage, who hopes to share the success his older siblings have earned at Ki-Be. Last but not least is Jacy, a 15-year-old sophomore, who spurned family tradition and has no interest in track.
“(Gage) talks about his brothers, but not necessarily as a pressure situation,” coach Allen said. “It is more of an inspirational thing.”
While neither of the Leavitts’ parents — Lynn and Gwen — were as successful as their kids at running, they did have cousins who competed in the sport.
“The kids were quick, fast runners from the start,” Lynn Leavitt said. “They wanted to pursue it from a very young age. Each child followed the next — they just wanted to compete.”
They’ve definitely done that during the years, and continue to do so today.
Last year, the family got together to watch Whitney compete in a track meet in Spokane.
Afterward, there was a bit of trash talk about who the fastest Leavitt really is.
So off to nearby Shadle Park High School they went, to race one another around a track one more time.
Filling up five lanes, the group decided only to run 75 meters because some of the older siblings were a bit out of shape.
“They all thought they’d win,” their mother said. “It was quite a few years since some had run, so they weren’t as quick as they thought they were.”
Off they went, with Devin pulling up lame, and Gage crossing the finish line first, besting Barry, Whitney and Holden.
It was the first of what Gage hopes are many winning races the next few months.