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Brown returns to the track in top form

After serving four years in the Air Force, Reynolds graduate Jessy Brown is a top contender with Mt. Hood's track program
by: David Ball, Mt. Hood sophomore Jessy Brown makes a practice run with the Saints last week. He is ranked No. 1 in the 800 and No. 2 in the 1,500 among Northwest Community College runners.

Mt. Hood Community College distance runner Jessy Brown is an old dog doing his best to learn some new tricks with the Saints' track team this spring.

Brown returns to the track after spending the last four years in the Air Force, including three deployments into the war zone. The 24-year-old started at Mt. Hood when most of his teammates were graduating from middle school.

'I'm the old man on the team,' he says with a chuckle.

Those years have proved valuable for Brown, who has renewed motivation in racing and in life. His dream in the military was to become a part of the para-rescue unit, dropping into remote areas to other soldiers in danger. But after six months of intense training he was released from the program and landed in security forces instead.

'Nothing challenged me until I got to para-rescue,' Brown said. 'That was like a kick in the face. It was a challenge to get through it every day. That experience really molded me. My only disappointment was not making the cut, but that has motivated me to find success in other areas of my life.'

One of those areas is the classroom. In his first year at Mt. Hood he put together a mediocre 2.57 Grade Point Average. He is pulling straight As since his return.

'I've grown up a lot and am more focused now,' Brown said. 'Most college kids can leave class early and there is no consequence. You can't leave early in the military - you have an obligation.'

Brown is finishing his sophomore year and is working toward a business degree.

On the track, Saints' coaches are confident that Brown can compete for a Northwest title, but they are working with him to develop a more complex racing strategy.

It was simple during his time at Reynolds. Sprint to the front of the pack and keep going. That aggressive style paid off more often than not, as Brown was a district title contender in his junior and senior years.

This season, the Saints' coaches are teaching him a new style that involves more movement during the race with a late surge for the finish line. It's like trying to tell the hound not to chase the fox.

'We're trying to teach him patience and better pacing so he can run faster throughout the race,' Saints' distance coach Keith Maneval said. 'Just going for it from the start isn't as effective against college runners. We want him to have more left at the end.'

Complicating matters is Brown's newfound claustrophobia, which raises its head at the beginning of a race when runners get bundled into a tight group at the starting line. That usually leaves Brown sagging toward the back of the pack, as he works during the race to pass opponents one by one.

'You don't look at anything the same after being over there. A large group of people can impose a threat,' Brown said. 'You just notice everything - a bag in the corner, exit doors, a luggage bag left alone.'

By the end of the spring season, Brown hopes that his peformance on the track will force the racing world to take notice of him.