Crestview senior Tyler White (center) clears the final hurdle during a heat race at the Northwest Conference meet in Spencerville on Thursday, May 10, 2018. White begins his tournament trail at the same stadium this week. (DHI Media/John Parent)
Crestview senior Tyler White (center) clears the final hurdle during a heat race at the Northwest Conference meet in Spencerville on Thursday, May 10, 2018. White begins his tournament trail at the same stadium this week. (DHI Media/John Parent)
CONVOY — There may have never been a happier hurdler than Tyler White. The Crestview senior’s track career hasn’t been all roses, but now that it’s entering its final weeks, White couldn’t be more pleased.

“I love competition, and I hope to be first in any meet, but at the end of the day I’m blessed to even get over a hurdle,” said White. “I’m 5’9 doing hurdles. I’m tiny. I’m just glad that I’m able to do it and am able to do it quickly. I’m glad that I’m even this close to the school record. If I don’t get it, I at least came close. How cool is that!”

It’s an enjoyable experience, talking to White about hurdles. His path to his present-day success hasn’t been normal, to say the least.

“I moved into Knight Striders (cross country) in fourth grade,” said White. “I realized that I liked running. At the end of fifth grade after the big one-mile race I said I’ll never run again because I was so awful, I was so tired, but I ended up doing distance running in sixth grade, seventh grade, and eighth grade. I just kept doing cross country because I loved it.”

Still thinking of himself as primarily a distance runner, White went out for track in eighth grade, gave the hurdles a shot, and found instant success, winning many races.

During his freshman year, however, an injury kept him out of cross country and track.

White was back into cross country in the fall of his sophomore year. He describes his cross country career as follows:

“Sophomore year I was still recovering, so I was like third to last on the team which is really bad. Junior year is when I finally became like the seventh man. Then my senior year I was third. My best time was a 17.58. It wasn’t fantastic, but it was a lot better than I was doing. I started off in the 23’s.”

“Tyler has the trait of perseverance,” said cross country coach Jeff Bagley. “He has battled through some injuries and just kept improving through his high school running career. Tyler was willing to put himself in a position to improve. His best 5K time as a sophomore was 20:48, as a junior 19:24, and this year it was a 17:58.”

“As a sophomore I decided to do track again, did hurdles and got absolutely destroyed,” said White. “They killed me, a bunch of juniors and seniors, they had this down. I wanted to be like that. I wanted to understand how they did that, so I worked on it. My pastor, Dave Ray, used to be a hurdler. He trained me on block starts and basic hurdle form.”

Having been inspired during his sophomore year by the two best Division III hurdlers in the state — Bluffton’s Trevor Bassitt and Lincolnview’s Hunter Blankemeyer — White’s performance improved remarkably in 2017.

“I wanna say I just hit another stage of puberty,” said White with a chuckle. “But I think it was because as a sophomore I hadn’t really taken track seriously. I was gonna use track to condition for cross country. I see these guys doing great — mostly Hunter Blankemeyer — I saw him do hurdles, and he’d beat me by like four hurdles. How did he do that? I would watch videos. I would try it, I would do the drills, that’s when it (my performance) completely flipped over.”

With 110-hurdles times as low as the 15’s and 300-hurdles times as low as the 42’s, White was very competitive in 2017, but the season ended with catastrophe at districts.

“That was so bad,” said White. “I was hurt in the 300. I was already really exhausted, but for some reason I really wanted to beat this one kid. I didn’t even think about my steps, jumped way early, just right into the hurdle, barely got any vertical at all. I fell and strained a muscle in my knee, had a bone bruise, was on crutches for a week, and couldn’t really run for another five months. I blamed myself for it. It was all me.”

This year has gone well. White has some wins, most notably championships in both hurdles races at the Van Wert County meet. In last weekend’s NWC championships he finished a close second in the 110-hurdles to Allen East’s Kyle Nickles — 15.42 to 15.44.

“The 110-meter hurdles is my favorite,” said White. “I run the 300’s mostly for endurance and technique, but 110’s — that’s my favorite. I love it, the rhythm and how much technique it takes. In the 300’s I do 17 steps between hurdles up until like the last two hurdles — then you’re just tired, you’re just trying to get over ‘em. I’m straight dying every single time. In the 110’s it’s three steps between hurdles, and we know if we mess up one hurdle we’re done.”

Next up is White’s last go-round at the tournament trail where he will be in both hurdles races, the fast-improving 4x400 relay team, and probably the 4x100 relay team. He sees the 110-hurdles as his best bet to make it to Columbus.

“I came into this year really just wanting to get to state,” said White. “I just really want to see what that’s like. It’s just so exciting. I’ve never been there in my life. I don’t even care if I’m dead last. I just want the experience of going to state. That’d be so cool!”

Also within sight is the Crestview school record in the 110-hurdles — the 15.32 of Jason Brueckner in 2004. White’s best is 15.4. Bruckner also holds the record in the 300-hurdles — 39.71 in 2003, which White doesn’t consider reachable.

“Tyler has been great to work with,” said Rachel Alvarez, who this year became the first hurdles coach at Crestview. “He is willing to try every crazy drill I throw at them and catches on quickly. It’s great as a coach because he continues to challenge me to find new ways to challenge him. He’s the type of athlete coaches love to coach, not just because of the talent he has, but because of the way he strives to make those around him better.”

“Tyler is very determined,” said head track coach James Lautzenheiser. “He has seen his interest and skill in hurdles grow tremendously since he was a freshman. He has also grown considerably as an emotional leader of his teammates. He can be reserved at school and the classroom, but before and after a big race you can feel the intensity of the moment.”

Next year White, a Crestview scholar-athlete, will be attending Hope College in Holland, Michigan, majoring in psychology with an emphasis on counseling. He will be hurdling for the Flying Dutchmen. In college track the 110-hurdles are higher than high school (42” instead of 39”), and the longer race is 400 meters instead of 300 meters. White is looking forward to the challenge.