Just before Jason Smith takes to the Jack Rose Track, he looks down on his wrists to remind him why he competes. Written on athletic tape are the names of those who keep him motivated.
His left wrist has his mom, Lynncia, grandma, Elsie, and a close family friend’s grandma, Audrey. On his right wrist, he has his two grandpas, Louis and Delester, and his two uncles, Eddie and Dennis.
“Before every meet, I take time to myself to wrap my wrists, reflect on all the blessings that I have been given and the opportunities I have been given to compete for this university,” Smith said.
The senior track and field star has played all four years of his collegiate career at Long Beach State, specializing in long jump and high jump. Smith is also majoring in kinesiology with an emphasis in sports psychology.
While many track and field athletes begin training at a young age, it took some convincing to switch Smith from playing baseball and basketball and give the sport a chance.
“Growing up I was a baseball kid, actually,” Smith said. “The track coaches at my high school were always hounding me to come out because they would see me on the basketball court and say, ‘You’re fast, you’re athletic, have you considered coming out for track?’”
After quitting baseball, Smith began to run track during his junior year of high school, which would lead him down a more promising path in athletics. By his senior year, Smith was qualifying for state and setting school records.
He continued to make his mark starting his first year at CSULB. In fact, Smith won Big West Freshman of the Year in 2017.
Head coach Andy Sythe spoke highly of Smith and his accomplishments while on the track team at the Beach.
“He is the prototypical kid that we develop here,” Sythe said. “Comes in with some good marks, but didn’t get highly looked at. And then we bring them up to the level where they are amongst the best in the nation.”
Smith has the accolades to back up the high praise. The senior is a three-time All-American and the first two-time National Collegiate Athletic Association qualifier in CSULB’s program history.
He is just as impressive in the classroom as on the track. If Smith qualifies for Nationals with his current grades, he will be eligible to be on the All-Academic team for track and field.
He currently holds the university record for the indoor long jump with a mark of 25-10’ and .25″ and is in the Long Beach State Top 10 for indoor high jump, indoor triple jump and the long jump.
Smith’s emphasis in sports psychology plays a valuable role in the way he prepares for competition, he said.
“I know a lot of mental skills that help control all these emotions that athletes go through in the competing environment,” he said.
For Smith, athletes like Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods are role models for mental toughness and resilience, not just in their sport, but in life as well.
When he’s not competing or practicing, Smith said he likes to decompress by playing Call of Duty and NBA 2K, or simply relaxing by hanging out with friends and family.
Sythe emphasized the importance that Smith’s family has played in his success, as they are his biggest support system. He is used to seeing the Smith crew in the stands, but with COVID-19 prohibiting fan attendance at collegiate sports, Smith has had to rely on himself and his teammates for that extra push.
“Jason is my biggest supporter,” Smith’s teammate and best friend Kent Harris said. “As far as my teammates go, he has consistently had my back and not only my back, but has the back of all his teammates.”
Although track is a solo sport, Smith doesn’t play it that way. He is the model teammate and makes his fellow athletes feel like part of something larger than their individual performances.
“The minute one of us does well, he wants to celebrate with us,” Harris said. “He’s able to look at sports very objectively.”
Smith’s track and field goals go far beyond the collegiate level. This year he hopes to make the Olympic trials and hopefully the U.S. Olympic team, though if he doesn’t, he has another chance to make the El Salvador team since he has dual citizenship.
Smith’s next competition will be at the Jim Bush Legends Invitational on March 24 at UCLA.