Lately, Joe Waskom is a popular guy who is hard to contact.
However, seeing how Waskom has been the subject of multiple articles in the past nine years, Living Snoqualmie decided to be persistent and talk to the hometown running champion about his incredible come-from-behind race to win the 1500M NCAA Championship on June 10th in Eugene, Oregon.
Joe Waskom ran a personal record of 3:40.33 to become the third Husky man to win a Pac-12 title in the 1,500. This was the first outdoor track title for the Washington men since 2011, the Huskies’ first running title since 2006 and their first title in the 1,500 event since 1928.
Snoqualmie residents since 2003, the Waskom family has a shared love of athletics. Dad, Jim, played multiple sports and mom, Jill, competed collegiately at Washington State University from 1988-1992 on the Women’s Cross Country (XC) and Track & Field Teams. Jill now teaches the ASB class and PE at Mount Si High School, and Jim works as a commercial insurance broker.
Hannah, Joe’s 23-year-old sister, started running in middle school, first with Cross Country and then track as something fun to do while playing club soccer. In the 7th grade, she decided to skip soccer try-outs and instead join a local track and XC club team called Speed Unlimited.
This decision and the ability to train year-round with wonderful, experienced coaches at that early age really laid the foundation for both Waskom’s school careers.
Hannah had a lot of success in high school. She was a state meet competitor in both XC and Track & Field. A Mount Si High School record holder, league champion once and district champion twice. She placed in the top four as a junior and senior at XC and State track meets.
Hannah will be home this summer to start law school at Seattle University. Says mom, “Nobody is happier or prouder for Joe than Hannah.”
2019 Mount Si High School grad Joe and current University of Washington Husky was a State Champion multiple times for Mount Si, both in Track and Cross Country and is still going strong at the UW.
The now 21-year-old says he always loved to run and started doing fun run 5k’s in elementary school, which were set up by his high school coach Sean Sundwall.
Waskom says, “I really started to take running seriously in 7th grade when I decided to join my sister on a club team called Speed Unlimited! I really loved it and decided to quit soccer to pursue running!”
Coach Sundwall calls him “a gifted athlete who would have excelled at any sport he devoted himself to” and is grateful he chose running. Joe ran competitively all through middle school & high school, and Sundwall coached him all four years he ran for Mt. Si High School.
When asked who first recognized Joe’s talent for running, he gave all the credit to Joe’s mom but said that Joe had certainly caught his eye as a very young boy when he ran in Sundwall’s races.
Calling him a real go-getter, Sundwall notes, “early on he started too fast, and it cost him at the end of a race. So, we worked a lot on getting out fast in the first 200-400 and then settling in and being fine with drafting off someone’s shoulder and letting them do all the hard work as long as that person was running a competitive pace. In his final 18 months of high school, he really bought in, and it allowed his incredible kick to pay dividends.”
It was clear that Sundwall has a ton of respect for the runner and the person Joe has become. When I asked what he thinks makes Joe tick, he said, “Competing. He loves to compete. But what really sets him apart if he loves to train. Most athletes love to play the games but are bored at practice. Not Joe. He loves it all. And, of course, he loves to win. He’s done a lot of it.”
UW coach Andy Powell agrees with coach Sundwall saying Waskom never has a bad attitude, is always enthusiastic, and encouraging to his teammates, is proud to represent the State of Washington and is “in it” no matter what the conditions are like outside. Powell says the first thing he did after winning the 1500 was to look for and grab his teammates. No victory lap for the humble Snoqualmie kid; he even made sure to say hi to his sister in his post-race interview.
I had a chance to ask Joe a few questions about the race, his plans moving forward, and a curveball for a runner friend of mine:
As a non-runner watching the race, I was interested in how it all played out. Some of the other runners looked to be in serious discomfort towards the end, but you (and your teammates) made it look easy coming from the middle of the pack to the front. Do you have a strategy before the race, or do things just happen organically?
Joe: I always have a race plan before the gun goes off. It’s usually a pretty simple plan. I always want to be in a good position with a lap to go and just compete for that last lap!
Has running gotten easier or harder over time?
Joe: I would say that over time, even with more experience, running will always be a challenge. Luckily, I have always had great teammates and coaches that make training and racing fun and exciting.
Moving forward, do you plan to continue running for the UW and what about beyond that? What are your career goals?
Joe: I do plan to move forward with continuing my career at UW. I am going to finish my degree here next year, and I would love to get a master’s degree the following year afterward. After that, I would love to continue my running career as a professional. I really want to mix it up with the best in the world at world championships and at the Olympic games! That’s the dream!
Do you remember the last piece of advice Coach Powell gave you before the race?
Joe: Right before I went down into the stadium to get ready to race, my coach gave me a fist bump and said, “You got this!”
What is your biggest challenge in running?
Joe: My biggest challenge that I have in running is that I take it too seriously sometimes. I need to remember that it’s gotta be fun, and when I do that, everything starts to click!
Are there any short-term goals you’d like to accomplish in the next few months to a few years?
Joe: Some short-term goals I have in the next couple of years is that I would love to be All-American in Cross Country, Indoor and Outdoor Track. I really want to just keep improving and running faster!
What do you believe to be one of your weaknesses, and what are you doing to improve it?
Joe: One of my biggest weaknesses has to be my flexibility. I’m not super flexible, so I’ve started stretching every day.
Most importantly, we all want to know, do you eat cake?
Joe: I LOVE my sweets! I love candy, chocolate, and cake!
When asked how she feels about Joe’s win, Jill Waskom said, “What I feel now is just happiness for Joe. He has worked really hard. He got to live out his dream, and it’s a forever memory for all of us. I feel gratitude for all the people who have helped him along the way, his coaches, teammates, friends, teachers, and yes, his big, huge, loving extended family, who are always there for the pep talks. Particularly, big sister, Hannah, who really paved his way to the University of Washington.”
So if you see Joe or his family running on their favorite trail, the SVT, be sure to say congratulations and give him a thumbs up for a job well done!