VANCOUVER — If you asked Jesse Hooton to cast a ballot for himself as either a track athlete or a politician, the result would likely require a re-count.
And that’s because whether he’s running in his quest of a national championship, or running for the presidency of his school’s Alma Mater Society, the UBC Thunderbirds’ senior is one who epitomizes the daily duality experienced by all student-athletes on the Point Grey campus.
“Competing one-on-one with other candidates and winning an election to attain office is just like going for the gold medal in a race,” he says.
Yet while the sacrifice provides rewards aplenty on so many different levels, they come with the undeniable component of adversity, and that is something that Hooton has discovered in spades.
From competing for Canada at the World Junior Track and Field championships after his freshman season to suffering multiple stress fractures the next season?
And how about the political pickle he found himself in after his response to a question during the AMS presidential debates caused something of a campus media firestorm?
“You have to really relish the good times and you have to be aware that things don’t always go your way,” the graduate of North Vancouver’s Handsworth Secondary explains. “Things can turn on you as quickly in a bad way as they can in a good way.”
Here then is a story that starts on the training trails, moves to the campaign trail and finishes with no finish line in sight.
ROOKIE REWARDS, SOPHOMORE JINXES
Having abandoned a career in competitive swimming early in his ninth-grade year at Handsworth (2009-10), Hooton couldn’t shake his competitive urges and decided the next year to join the school’s cross-country and track teams to participate in a sport he had only done for fun in elementary school.
Based on his results at the provincial cross-country meet, he was a natural. After finishing 130th in Grade 10, he took 10th in Grade 11 and as a senior in 2012-13, finished fourth.
All of that was enough to get Hooton to UBC, and in his freshman season, he blossomed beyond expectation, making the UBC team which took part in the NAIA national cross-country championships.
Then, in March of 2104, running his first official 10,000 metre race on a track, Hooton hit the international junior standard by clocking a time of 31:24.92 at the UBC Invitational.
That time would hold as one of the top two by Canadian junior male all season, and thus the neophyte Hooton represented Canada in the 10-K at the World Junior Track and Field championships held at fabled Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.
The euphoria, however, was short-lived.
“The second year was the worst of my life,” Hooton, 21, continued. “I got stress fractures in both legs, I had to miss the entire cross-country season. I was over-training, burning the candle at both ends, focusing too much on the present and not on the year to come.”
Important details like injury prevention, registering for courses and finding housing were all left to an 11th hour panic.
“I’d have to break the last four years down into about a dozen chapters,” Hooton explains. “My first year was so successful. I achieved almost every goal I had set out for myself. After that first year, you just assume you’ll feel the same way right through your fourth year. But like I said, things can go downhill quickly.
“I’ve had to grind to get back in my third and now fourth years,” he continues. “Now, I value my physical well-being, I value the importance of recovery and sleep. Since third year, I’ve had schedules written out, like when to nap, when to study and when to buy groceries.”
And, of course, he’s got May 25-27 circled on his calendar. Those are the dates of Hooton’s final kick at the can as it pertains to winning a gold medal at the NAIA national track and field championships.
There, in Gulf Shores, Ala., Hooton is expected to contend in the 5,000 metres, the race which has become his specialty in the aftermath of his 10,000 metres-induced injuries.
In past meets he has tried to compete at multiple distances, but this year the focus will change.
“I think we want to focus on one quality performance instead of two medium ones,” said UBC head coach Laurier Primeau, who had tried to recruit Hooton as a high school senior back in 2013 when he was coaching at Langley’s Trinity Western University.
“Jesse has come a long way since last year and he has a real medal shot in the 5,000.”
TERMS OF MISUNDERSTANDING
Hooton has gone from fractured legs in his track career to a self-described case of foot-in-the-mouth in his political one.
“I failed and I was abysmal from start to finish,” he says in a tone that hasn’t lessened his conviction to remain politically active and involved in the future. “It was a learning experience and that is what made it so valuable.”
At UBC’s Alma Mater Society presidential debate in late February, Hooton, along with three other candidates, were each asked to answer the question ‘If you were an alcoholic beverage, which drink would you be?’
“Peach growers (as in the brand produced by Growers Cider). I don’t want to sound too fruity, but I do enjoy that drink.”
UBC’s student newspaper, The Ubyssey, was covering the debates and later wrote: “Always a good idea to answer with a joke that eases right up to the line of homophobia” and “Hooton seems like a nice guy with a serious case of foot-in-mouth disease.”
For the political-science major who sees politics as a hopeful part of his future down the road, the reaction caught him completely off guard.
“It was a joke question and so I gave it a sort of a joke answer,” said Hooton who did not win office. “If people thought it was homophobic, that is not what was in my heart at all.
“Because of that, I didn’t feel the need to apologize and I moved on. I told people not to be offended and that made it worse.”
It’s like Hooton said off the top, that things can turn on you as quickly in a bad way as they can in a good way.
“It made me realize that how I see things are not how others do and that there are people who have had rough experiences that leave them more sensitive to things,” he continued. “You have to learn to craft your arguments better to be inclusive. You have to speak your mind, but not in ways that enrage.
“I think it’s important that politicians speak their mind, not tip-toe, to have a debate. But at the same time, if they want to represent a group and be successful, they have to be as inclusive as possible. Society is super diverse.”
CANDIDATE FOR SUCCESS
The sum total of his experiences as a UBC student-athlete have done what they were supposed to do.
Hooton has learned and grown through the journey.
Accomplishments and failures have continued to follow each other and the sum total has provided a level of mettle for everything that will follow.
“I think the two are inextricable,” he says of running and politics. “As an athlete, there is always a sort of compulsion towards elevating our prowess. And in politics, it’s the same thing, trying to gain power to be the best. They are also very connected when it comes to people coming together with respect for one another and respect for their team or their institution.”
So what does the future hold?
“I went from being a national team member to a guy who hardly ran at all the next year, so it’s been eye-opening how quickly things can shift,” he begins.
“I want to continue running for the next couple of years now that I am at a level where I feel like I can keep going. But I am also very interested in politics and running for office in the future is something I want to do. I was not scared (by the AMS experience). I was invigorated by it.”
Running for office.
No need for a re-count because Jesse Hooton is determined to do both.
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