Jaylin Townsend’s introduction to the state’s track & field scene came a year later than planned, but it was quite a first impression.
As a sophomore, the Flint Beecher star walked out of the Lower Peninsula Division 4 Finals with two individual titles, one relay title and a runner-up finish in another relay.
“It kind of surprised me,” Townsend said. “Coming into the season off of COVID, we could barely get into the weight room, and it was hard to get on the track and run. We couldn’t get the blocks out. It was kind of an eye opener, really.”
Despite it being his first season – the 2020 season was canceled completely – Townsend was dominant throughout. He won all but one of the individual races he competed in, with the lone loss coming in the 200 meters in the first meet of the season.
That was quickly corrected, as he cut nearly four seconds off his time in his next meet and never lost the race again.
He won the 100 meters at the Division 4 Finals with a personal best of 10.98 seconds. He won the 200 in 22.75. His personal best in that event is 22.37, which was run in the prelims of the Regional.
Beecher’s relay teams that featured Townsend were equally dominant. The 800-meter relay team suffered just one defeat – disqualification at the Genesee Area Conference championship meet. Townsend, Micah Brown, Danny Bradley and Jacoby Sanders ran a season-best 1:30.59 to win at the Division 4 Finals.
The 400 relay team of Townsend, Bradley, Carmelo Harris and James Cummings II took second at the Division 4 Finals with a time of 44.11. It was their first non-DQ loss of the season.
It was close, but Jaylin Townsend (@Jay23Trip) took home two State Championship medals for Flint Beecher, winning the 100 Meter Dash and the 200 Meter Dash.#StateChamps x @MHSAA pic.twitter.com/BMnhp2GaPV
— STATE CHAMPS! Michigan (@statechampsmich) June 19, 2021
Townsend’s contributions were good for 38 team points, which alone would have placed fourth in Division 4. Beecher as a team finished third with 54 points.
While the immediate success came as a surprise to Townsend, it didn't to his coach.
“I saw it in him,” Beecher coach Joe Wilkerson said. “I knew he could be something special. I told his mother when I talked to her, ‘This guy is going to be a state champ this year.’ There was just something about him that I saw it in him. Lo and behold, he was a three-time state champ. It just made me feel good, because I could trust my own instincts a little bit right now.”
Townsend knows his success will motivate his future opponents even more, but he’s fine with that.
“Going into this year, I know they’re coming for me,” he said. “I know I have to put in some extra work.”
Putting in extra work is something Townsend is used to, as he had to a year ago to get up to speed. He said working on his stride and coming out of the blocks were the main points of emphasis.
“I had to learn a lot, actually,” he said. “Most of the stuff, I was just doing off raw talent. I would make sure to ask Coach, ‘Hey, do you have an extra 30 minutes? Can you stay after?’ My first-ever track meet, when I came out of the blocks, I used to pop right up.”
That has Wilkerson excited, as he believes the sky is the limit for his young star.
“This guy, he’s exceptional,” said Wilkerson, who has coached track at Beecher on and off since 1979. “I’ve been coaching for a long time, and I’ve never had a student quite like him with that kind of natural ability.”
Townsend’s focus on track is essentially limited to the spring season, as he also plays football and basketball for the Buccaneers.
“I’ve always been a great athlete, and I wanted to continue to be great,” Townsend said. “Going into basketball, it keeps me in shape for track.”
He was a key reserve forward for the Beecher basketball team, which advanced to the Division 3 Semifinals this season. He plays mostly in the post, despite being a shade under 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds.
Football is the sport he’s most focused on, particularly when it comes to competing in college. He plays receiver, free safety and cornerback for Beecher, and said he’s had talks with Central Michigan, Ferris State and Grand Valley State.
It was his performance on the track, though, that really helped to start those.
“When I started posting the speed, some of the colleges started to look like, ‘Hey, we can use this kid,’” Townsend said. “It helped out a lot.”
Heading into his junior track season, he hopes to turn a few more heads. He knows the best way to do that is to hold off the challengers who now have him in their sights, and continue to improve on his times. His goal is to work his 100 time down to 10.5 and his 200 time into the mid 21s.
“It kind of goes together,” he said. “Coming off last season, it put a target on my back, but it made some college coaches want to come to the track meets. They want to see me run. They want to see my speed. It’s nothing I can’t handle, though.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Flint Beecher’s Jaylin Townsend, right, turns a corner as he works to get a pace ahead of Saugatuck’s Benny Diaz on the way to winning last season’s LPD4 200 championship. (Middle) Townsend gets ready to defend during last month’s Division 3 Semifinal against Schoolcraft. (Top photo by Will Kennedy; middle photo by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
Athletics showed Soj Jibowu just how far he could push himself.
All the time spent on the track, working to become the state’s best high school 400-meter runner, and then more than that, taught him to stretch beyond what he thought were his limits.
So, when it came time to make a decision on whether to jump fully into his apparel company, Varlo, or keep it as a part-time side venture, the 2001 Saginaw Heritage graduate knew he could take himself to another level if needed.
Jibowu is the founder and CEO of Varlo, a clothing company that specializes in outfitting triathletes, but also offers casual wear for men and women. The company is just over three years old, but its clientele includes hundreds of triathletes, eight professionals, three NCAA programs and even hospitals. Merchandise is sold in eight countries.
All of that is validation for Jibowu, who took the leap to pursuing the company full-time just one year into its existence.
“When I resigned (from a medical sales job) to do this full-time, my wife was pregnant with our second child, my daughter wasn’t even walking yet,” said Jibowu, who now lives in Cherry Hill, N.J., with his wife and two young children. “Where was my state of mind to leave my very comfortable, high-paying job to pursue this – to sell clothes?”
His mind was in the same place that helped him reach tremendous heights as a runner, both at Heritage and Central Michigan University.
Jibowu, who was born in Nigeria and spent much of his childhood in Huntsville, Ala., was part of some incredible Heritage teams. He graduated a year behind eventual NFL safety Stuart Schweigert, who he ran with on the Finals-winning 1,600 relay in 2000. Another member of that relay was Derold Sligh, who won the 400-meter Finals title that year, setting the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals record in the process. The Hawks were LP Division 1 runners-up as a team that season.
“I ran track when I was younger, and I was terrible,” Jibowu said. “In high school, if I look back at it, I probably would have called it impostor syndrome. I think that was me up until maybe like somewhere in my senior year when I started to think, ‘I’m pretty fast.’ … I had so many dominant people around me, in my mind, I was still the slow guy.”
As a senior, Jibowu erased that self-doubt. He led Heritage to its first, and still only, Division 1 Finals title, running the 400 in 48.28 and breaking the record Sligh had set the year prior.
It was working to get to that point that Jibowu still credits with his ability to push himself in all things.
“I preach this all the time: if you have the ability to be involved in sports at a young age, do it,” Jibowu said. “It’s a gift, first of all. You don’t know any better when you’re young, you think you’re just training your body, but what’s really, truly occurring is you’re training your mind and building discipline. You’re building your character as far as who you are as a person. What is your will? How far are you willing to push? Am I able to be coached? Am I able to learn? Am I able to lose over and over again and keep going? Am I able to navigate to feel what it’s like to win? What you’re truly developing is how to manage and handle life.”
Jibowu said he didn’t finalize his college decision until late in the process, as he had to work on his test scores into the summer. While at CMU, he majored in biomedical science and chemistry, and he excelled, admitting he was a much better student in college than in high school.
He was also reunited with Sligh on the Chippewas track team, and had a successful career. He was regularly within the top five in the 200 and 400 in the Mid-American Conference, and won a MAC title in the 400 at the 2004 indoor championships. His personal bests in the races were 21.19 and 46.81, respectively.
After graduating from CMU, Jibowu began working as a pharmaceutical rep, then moved into medical sales.
While he remained active, it wasn’t until he took a trip to Chicago that he discovered triathlons.
“I remember seeing these really cool bikes and these really fit people, and then they jumped into Lake Michigan,” he said. “And I didn’t know that was possible, because I didn’t grow up swimming. I didn’t know that volume of people knew how to swim like that. Then they get out of Lake Michigan, jump on their bikes and they’re flying. Then they’re sprinting a 6K and I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, these guys are the real freaking deal.’ I was hooked and wanted to start competing.”
As he began competing, the wheels for his current venture began turning. At this point, Jibowu was living out east and had worked for a pair of successful start-ups in the medical industry. That helped give him knowledge, and confidence, to make his own moves.
“I had always been into clothes and fashion, and how you express yourself with what you wear,” Jibowu said. “There was an opportunity there. The sport of triathlon is as old as me; it started in (1983). That’s a baby. That’s like basketball without the 3-point line. There’s so much opportunity for innovation.”
With that, Varlo was born, and it has since thrived, with Jibowu and the lessons he learned on a track in Saginaw paving the way.
“If you are in high school and have the ability to be in a sport, it’s a gift,” he said. “At that young of an age, truly learning to manage the trials and tribulations of life. That is a gift.”
2021-22 Made in Michigan
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PHOTOS (Top) At left, Heritage’s Soj Jibowu wins the 400 meters during the 2001 Saginaw Valley League championship meet. At right, Jibowu is the founder and CEO of the Varlo clothing company. (Middle) Jibowu’s company specializes in outfitting triathletes, and he has taken up the sport after a successful college track & field career. (Heritage photo courtesy of Saginaw News/MLive; current photos courtesy of Soj Jibowu.)