Track and field is one of the few sports that uniquely combines individual and team performance.
Redshirt junior jumper Jason Smith has been leaping up the Long Beach State leaderboard with marks of his own, but he doesn’t do it for himself.
“My motivation every day is my family,” Smith said. “I’ve always wanted to give back for everything that they’ve given to me. Just having them come out and see who they raised, how well [I’m] doing, and doing something that [I love].”
Smith will be sporting white tape on his arms at each meet this year to honor the individuals who inspire him.“On the tape, he wrote names of women that lift him,” his mother Lynn said, “and men that give him strength.”
Two of those names on the tape, Lynn and his grandmother Elsie, travel to every meet they can.
“Every time [my mom] gets the chance, she’s going to be coming out to watch her baby,” Smith said, “so I’m just trying to make her proud.”
And he has made her proud.
Smith tied Long Beach State’s long jump record of 25-07.25 on Feb. 1 in the UW Invitational, held by former teammate and two-time Big West Men’s Field Athlete of the Year Kemonie Briggs.
But Smith said he’s still not satisfied.
“I definitely am gonna break the record for myself,” he said. “It’s all love, but he knows I’m gonna get it.”
Smith wasn’t always a star jumper, he grew up on the diamond playing baseball. But during his junior year of high school, his passion for baseball grounded out.
“I told him he had to do something,” Lynn said. “The other thing that was within the baseball season was track. I said ‘OK then, track it is.’ I told him no excuses.”
Smith always had natural speed and he thought it would translate to baseball or basketball.
After beginning his journey on the track, Smith’s coaches told him no one is going to look at him unless he jumps to a mark of 23 feet or higher.
In his first track meet, he jumped a 23.
“He was like ‘Mom I did it I did it!’” Lynn recalled. “They told me what to do and I did it!”
Track and field head coach Andy Sythe saw the potential in Smith, so when Smith reached out to CSULB he knew he had to have him on his squad.
“Jason had that ‘It’ attitude, the ‘I can,’” Sythe said. “That was his driving force to make him better. He was not the best athlete. He was by far not the best athlete, but he really focused on the process and had the attitude that he could [be].”
With a prominent team in place when Smith arrived in Long Beach, it was going to be a battle to be the best. Smith welcomed the competitive culture curated by Sythe and thrived in it.
“I was like the little brother coming into the program,” Smith said. “I came here because of the marks I saw them putting up and I wanted that competition for myself.”
Smith was crowned Big West Freshman of the Year in 2017 and placed second in high jump and long jump at the conference championships his sophomore year.
A foot injury sidelined Smith his junior year, but he has kept a growth mindset going into his “comeback year.”
“I like his attitude, he’s a positive person,” Smith’s grandmother Elsie said. “He has come so far. When he started at Long Beach, he was just a scraggly, scrawny kid.”
With all eyes on Smith during his bounce-back season, he knew he had to remain calm and try his best.
“I think he does have the internal push to be the best in the nation,” Sythe said. “The question will always come down to keeping our health, keeping forward progress and believing in what he’s doing.”
Although Smith didn’t get to the Beach as a five-star recruit, he’s used his “business-like approach” towards his preparation and leadership to guarantee his face will be on the wall at Jack Rose Track with the other immortalized athletes.
“I’ve always, since I’ve stepped out on this campus, wanted my face on there,” Smith said. “I just want people to remember that I’ve always gotten better every year.”
Long Beach State track and field’s next meet will be the MPSF Championships Feb. 28-29 at the University of Washington.