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Former walk-on now national champ

Junior thrower Jason Lewis has overcame many hurdles in his career to become one of the top-ranked throwers in the country and an NCAA Indoor National Champion. (Matt Pavelek | The State Press)

The date was Feb. 15, 2008.

Then-sophomore thrower Jason Lewis was well on his way to an All-American season, and had provisionally qualified for the NCAA Indoor National Championships the day before.

Enter massive roadblock.

While at a meet in Ames, Iowa, Lewis sustained a high-ankle sprain, which is a notoriously tough injury to rehabilitate from quickly.

Nationals were only one month away and Lewis’ goal of becoming an All-American was drifting further from his grasp.

“I was like, ‘Well, what do I do now?’” Lewis said. “After the initial shock wore off, I buckled down, doing a lot of rehab, and just tried to get back to be able to throw at the national meet.”

Unfortunately for Lewis, the injury was too much to overcome, and he finished 15th in a field of 17.

He called the rest of the season “a wash,” as he tried to play catch up with the other throwers who were at 100 percent.

So the dream had to wait, but Lewis was not about to sit idly by.

Determination and drive are two qualities that this athlete has in spades, and he was about to show an entire country how anything is possible when those traits are unleashed.

After all, making the transition from walk-on to becoming one of the best throwers in the nation is not something one simply wakes up and puts on his to-do list.

But by the start of the 2009 track and field season, Lewis was back to his healthy Paul Bunyanesque self and was ready to blow his coach’s — and even his own — mind.

The first meet of the season was in Flagstaff, and Lewis wasted no time proving that this year was going to be a special one.

He came out and demolished his own school record in the weight throw by nearly 4 feet on his way to automatically qualifying for the national championship.

Lewis’ throw of 22.04 meters was the best of the competition, but he still had a little more work to do.

He finished the competition by taking first in the shot put as well, and earned a provisionally qualifying mark for nationals in the event.

It seemed as if Lewis’ technique was now on exactly the same page as his 440-pound clean and 700-pound squat.

“He’s come a long way,” ASU throwing coach David Dumble said. “He’s got a great work ethic, and he’s been able to learn a lot from the program, and with that [he] has changed a lot of his techniques, so all his power and speed is now appropriate. It all works. Before, he almost didn’t know how to handle it.”

This was only week one, though.

Surely, he would not do this every week. Right?


The next week, he went back to the high-elevation country and won the shot put again, this time garnering an automatic qualification to the indoor championship.

Lewis took first in three of the first four competitions, as the start of championship season inched closer.

When it finally arrived in the form of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championships, Lewis was peaking at just the right moment.

To say he edged out Boldizsar Kocsor of UCLA for the win in the weight throw would be an understatement.

Lewis won by a centimeter to take the MPSF crown one year and five days after his ankle injury effectively ended his chances at nationals.

This time around he would be healthy and throwing at a level to the likes of which no one had expected.

On March 14, Lewis entered the ring at Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium in College Station, Texas.

When he walked on to the team four years ago, he had seen his share of success at the high school level and knew he had talent.

He set a goal for himself: become an All-American.

Now Lewis stood on the precipice of not only that goal, but on the brink of history as well.

His first throw: foul.

Time to regroup.

He spun around on his second attempt and heaved the weight 20.89 meters.

Lewis had seen better throws.

After two more middle-of-the-road throws, Lewis found something.

That will, that “it” factor that only champions have.

On Lewis’ second to last toss he launched the 35-pound implement 22.88 meters, breaking his own school record and the facility record. It was a mark that made him the NCAA Indoor National Champion in the weight throw.

“I still don’t quite think [it] happened,” Lewis said. “It was never on my plate as a goal because it’s such a lofty goal. … It was never even within the [realm] of things I thought I could do.”

He was not the only one surprised by his performance.

ASU coach Greg Kraft had nothing but praise for his star, but admitted he never would have speculated that Lewis would be a national champion.

It seems like speculation goes out the window when talking about what Lewis is capable of.

During his rise from walk-on to best in the country, Lewis was also busy becoming the best he could in the classroom.

He has earned countless academic honors, including being named to the Academic All-Pac-10 first team.

“Coach Dumble mentioned to me, ‘This other guy we’re bringing in for a visit … he’s a walk on. Maybe he’ll be like Jason Lewis,” Kraft said. “I [said] ‘Dude, that might be it for your career to have a walk-on be a national champion. … It’s hard enough to have kids that you recruit who are the top kids in the country. … If there’s anybody that’s more deserving, I don’t know … He’s an outstanding student and outstanding person.”

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