Jeff McGowan Back in the Race

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Jeff McGowan Back in the Race

Written by Jim Langenderfer and Dick Walters on 23 May 2013.

Reprinted from the 1989 May/June publication of RUNOHIO - With a father who ran the 100 yard dash at the State Track Meet his senior year, and three older brothers, Bill, Joe, and Matt who held Circleville High School track records each in a different event, it was only natural that Jeff go out for track in junior high.

Following are comments made by Jim Langenderfer, Jeff’s 8th grade track coach and Dick Walters who is head track coach at Circleville High School.

“When I met Jeff McGowan in 1978, I was a second year teacher and track coach. My coaching back then was ‘learn by doing’, but that certainly didn’t fit Jeff’s running. I had heard about Matt’s running in college and several marathons. I thought that heredity would probably make Jeff a ‘decent’ runner. I remember when he set the 8th grade mile record – 4:53. I was so new to coaching track that I didn’t really appreciate it. I thought that any 8th grade runner could run a 5 minute mile. After a few more seasons of coaching, I realized how solid his mile record was and what exceptional talent Jeff possessed,” said Langenderfer.

Jeff continued to improve while he was in high school, often competing more than he trained. At least that is what some of his friends would say.

Coach Walters comments:

Most coaches at smaller schools dream of having the opportunity to coach a great athlete sometime in their careers. Jeff is the most talented, yet unassuming athlete with whom I have ever worked. Among those who followed AA Track and Field in central Ohio during the early 1980s, Jeff McGowan was a household name. I believe he still holds the meet record in the 800m run for the Dayton Regional – 1:53. Jeff scored 30 points in two years at the State Track Meet. Always seeking a challenge, he attempted the difficult double of the 1600m run and the 800m run even though he was advised by Lancaster’s coaches that no one had successfully done it since the state meet had gone to the format of the Class A, AA, and AAA meets at different times of the day. It was surmised that there just was not enough time to rest between the 1600m and 800m at that level of competition to win both. Maybe that was why Jeff wanted to try.

In two years of competition at the state meet he finished runner-up in the 1600m and was caught at the finish line in near photo finish both years for a second and third place in the 800m. Had he not attempted the 1600m run, he most likely would have been a two-time State Champion in the 800m run. Jeff had the courage to reach for the stars.

For all the greatness his teammates and coaches saw in him, Jeff remained a most friendly and down to earth person. I don’t think he ever thought himself to be exceptional in any way. In his mind he was just another student and member of the track team.

One of my most vivid recollections typifying Jeff was when, as only a sophomore at the district finals, he ran a personal best at that time in the 1600m of 4:30. It was probably the first time he had to push himself hard enough to really hurt. He came back to run a courageous 800m in another personal best time of near 2:00.0 which left him rubbery legged, extremely dizzy and unable to walk under his own power. A teammate and I grabbed his arms and draped them around our shoulders to assist him to the rest room where he quickly became sick from the exertion of the races. His eyes were glassy and rolled up slightly and he barely see or walk. He obviously was in no condition to run his scheduled leg of the upcoming 1600m relay. Before I could finish instructing a teammate to tell our alternate to run in Jeff’s place, Jeff said in a feeble voice, “Coach I always got a quarter left.” We walked him around until he had to report to the bullpen – where he continued unassisted. He proceeded to run a 51 second split on the relay. I have never seen anyone, before or since, with such a willingness to compete for his teammates.

After leaving Circleville and becoming track coach at Pickerington High School, Jim Langenderfer remembers talking with Jeff at an invitational at which both schools were competing. He was concerned that Jeff might be over racing. He would anchor the 3200m relay team, many times getting the baton late and literally sprint the 800 meters to win. Later he’d be back to run the 1600m and 800m against strong, rested runners – most generally winning. Generally he would anchor the 1600m relay. Jeff wasn’t a pacer; he was a racer. He could turn in a sub 50 second split in the 400, a fast time for any high school runner. At some meets the coach would ask him if he wanted to sit out the relay. That was one race he never wanted to sit out! After the 1600 and 800 Jeff said the 400 was a break. I think he just liked to get out there on the track with those sprinters and open it up to see what he could do. (He also has a 15:08 best in cross country).

Jeff’s high school running career didn’t go unnoticed. He was offered and accepted an athletic scholarship to Ohio University. For many high school runners the transition to the collegiate level of training takes its toll. Jeff trained and ran at OU for two years, but as he describes it – the 70-90 mile weeks left him in the training room more than on the track with the injuries that accompany high mileage.

We have discussed how discouraging it is to be injured; something that many of us face if we run long enough. In the end how we deal with it will make us stronger or tear us apart. After two years, Jeff decided to end his competitive career so he could spend more time on his dual majors of Management Information Systems and Human Resource Management.

“All of us who run know that it makes us stronger, not just physically but also mentally. We would like to think that some day we will be able to draw from this strength to do something, whether it’s a race, a job or whatever.” said Langerderfer.

Jeff has the opportunity to use this discipline, strength, and motivation that miles of training in the cold of winter and the heat and humidity of summer gives. In late March of 1988 as he was beginning spring quarter at OU, Jeff noticed a lump in his neck. When it didn’t go away, he went to the doctor. After much testing it was diagnosed as Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a form of cancer. Within a month he had to withdraw from college and undergo surgery.

“Seeing Jeff in the hospital after his spleen was removed, I knew he was in physical pain,” said Langenderfer.

“Last summer we got together and walked down High Street by Ohio State for the exercise and a chance to talk. For a guy who had run a 4:16 mile he had a hard time walking 3 or 4 blocks without needing to sit and rest. He didn’t like the chemotherapy because it made him sick. The doctor said he had to have treatments for nine to ten months every other week. Worse than the surgery or chemotherapy was the feeling that there were no guarantees that the cancer would be gone after the treatments were over. It’s difficult to be 23, a quarter from college graduation, and be told you’d not only sick for a year but not know what to expect at the end of that year. Jeff’s family and friends gave him much needed love and support”.

Jeff returned to college in the fall but needed to come home every weekend for blood counts and treatments, yet he earned a 3.4 fall quarter. In March he has his final chemotherapy treatment. His doctor told him everything looked great and he didn’t want to see him until June. He’ll also graduate in June with his dual major. Jeff is feeling well and he’s up to running an occasional mile and hopes to gradually increase as he feels stronger. Jeff’s back in the race!

Jeff passed away May 26th, 2012. A scholarship has been created in his name. Memorial contributions may be made to the:

Jeff McGowan Memorial Scholarship Fund, c/o RUNOHIO, PO Box 238, Granville, OH 43023.   More on Jeff -

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