LA CROSSE, Wis.— In his final race as a Baron athlete, Franciscan University runner Bill Jones placed second in the 5k at the Division III National Championships wearing only one shoe. In spite of this predicament, Jones ran a time of 14:27.26 to become a two-time All American and national championship title runner-up.
In the initial struggle for a good position Jones kept pace with the leaders, which forced him to run most of the race in the second lane and cost him his shoe in the second lap when a competitor accidentally stepped on his heel.
"I was thinking, 'can I get it back on?'" said Jones. "Then I realized, 'Oh no, it's coming off,' so I just ditched it."
Jones considered stopping to adjust the spike but remembered doing the same thing and falling far behind at his State Championships for cross country during his junior year of high school.
"My bare foot with the sock on it felt so awkward, but I just didn't let it get to me," Jones said. "I thought, 'Well, now the shoe is off, let's just try to do as well as I can without it.'"
Without a crucial piece of equipment on his left foot, the Baron runner maintained a steady pace until the final stretch, when he distanced himself from the rest of the pack to cross the finish line less than two seconds behind the leader.
Head track and field coach Vince Oliver said that the senior successfully followed his strategy to simply stay with the pack for most of the race, relying on his ability to pull ahead at the end.
"We knew there were only one or two guys that had a 1500 meter kick equal to or better than his, so we just wanted to see what the pack did and how his body was going to react after running the 10k on Thursday," Oliver said, adding that for the first few laps the pack seemed to be waiting for Jones to take the lead and set the pace as he had done in Thursday's 10k race.
"Bill would have none of it," Oliver said. "He ran the smartest race of his life."
In his final race for Franciscan, Jones was determined to not get caught up in an emotional battle.
"I thought, 'this is just another race,'" Jones said. "I'm just going to run and not think about what's next. That's the mentality you have to have. You can't let emotional things drain you, because they will."
Oliver also helped motivate Jones to make the most of his final collegiate race.
"I told him, 'This it. Do the best that you can, leave it all out on the track, and have no regrets when you cross the finish line.' And boy did he listen," Oliver said.
Jones's performance in both the 5k and the 10k earned 11 points for Franciscan University at the National Championships, placing the school 19th out of 79 Division III teams. Jones was the only Baron competing in the three day long meet.
Jones said he was pleased to be able to put the team and the school in such a prominent place on the national level.
"I feel so happy to have represented my team, because it's not just me that got the points," Jones said. "I felt the prayers and support of my teammates coming to help me do as well as I did. Even when there's one person representing our school, it's still a team effort. "
Oliver said Jones has been a bright light for Franciscan Athletics for the past five years.
"Bill is a once in a lifetime type of athlete," Oliver said. "In 45 years I can't say I've ever met a kid that works harder than him and is more dedicated to his sport, his faith, and everything that he does. He's just an all-around solid man."
Oliver added that the opportunity to coach Jones, particularly through the past two National Championships, has been humbling.
"Everybody starts with one goal in mind: to get somebody to the big show," Oliver said. "We've been blessed for two years in a row. It's been an incredible journey."
For the FUS graduate, however, the journey is not at an end. Jones said that having finally overcome his mental barrier at Nationals, he plans to continue to compete at open meets and see what other opportunities lie ahead.
"Overall, it's been a great career and I've learned a lot about myself, not only as a runner but as a man of God," Jones said. "I'm going to just take it one day at a time and see how well I can do."