Owen athlete to roam with Buffaloes

Fred McCormick

Garret Welsh has made a name for himself by running long distances in short amounts of time. But the Owen High student won’t have to go far to continue running in college.

Welsh will be attending Milligan College in Johnson City, Tennessee. He signed as a member of the Buffaloes’ cross country and track and field teams on May 25.

“I feel honored to have the chance to run in college,” he said. “I’m really, really happy.”

Welsh may have never had the opportunity to be on a collegiate team if not for an assignment in the seventh grade at Owen Middle School.

“As a science experiment for Mr. (Jim) Cooper, I had to run a mile with gym shorts and then compare that with a mile in running shorts,” he said. “The running shorts were better for running, and they improved my time.”

In addition to discovering the advantage of running shorts, Welsh also discovered his love for the sport itself.

His fondness for the distance running was just one of the things that made him special at the high school level, according to Owen’s longtime track and field and cross country coach Joe Hyder.

“He shows up every day and does exactly what you ask him to do,” Hyder said. “He’s tough mentally and physically. We have guys that can run 19 minutes (in 3.1 miles), but Garret consistently ran closer to 5:30 miles. You have to be able to withstand some pain to do that, and a lot of guys can’t.”

Welsh’s resolve, as well as what Hyder calls a “perfect runners’ physique,” took him to the cross country state championship in November. He finished 27th out of 137 runners with a time of 17:58.11 on a muddy course in Kernersville.

His performance in the state championship was 50 seconds off from his personal best of 17:08, which he recorded in October when Milesplit.com ranked him as the number 19 2-A runner in the state. But what stood out to Hyder throughout the year was Welsh’s consistency.

“He had a breakthrough as junior when he ran under 18 minutes for the first time,” Hyder said. “And then in his senior year he was under 18 minutes in every race except one.”

Durability is another aspect that Hyder attributes to Welsh’s growth as a runner.

“He was never hurt during his career here,” Hyder said. “He missed one race with a sprained ankle, but minor aches never slowed him down a bit.”

Ironically, one the lasting marks that Welsh left on the Owen track program was the 4:36.13 he ran in the 1600 meters. The performance was the second best in school history, according to Hyder.

“He was only like half of a second short of qualifying for state with that time,” Hyder said. “But what’s maybe even more impressive is that it shattered his own personal best by around 8 seconds. It’s pretty rare to see that kind of improvement in time in a runner’s last race.”

That’s just one of factors that leads Hyder to believe that Welsh’s “best runs are ahead of him.”

In his role as a team leader in high school, Welsh typically ran ahead of the pack. At Milligan, he will have the opportunity to be pushed by what Hyder calls “a team full of good runners.”

From his perspective, Welsh believes he is ready to improve.

“I think my time at Owen has prepared me for the next level,” he said.

Though he’s certainly not happy to see his star runner leave, Hyder agrees with Welsh.

“It will be really fun to watch him grow as a runner in college, but we’ll definitely miss him here,” Hyder said. “Everyone on the team gravitated toward Garret. And he always led by example.”