Walking into the New York City Armory on Saturday, Jesse Garn found himself in elite company.
The Binghamton University junior had reached the NCAA regionals in each of his first two seasons as a member of the Bearcats’ track and field squad, but this was an entirely different level. This was the Wanamaker Mile at the prestigious Millrose Games.
“All these guys were doing stride-outs [to warm up],” Garn said, “and you’ve got guys that have been national champions, you have multiple Olympians.”
Nick Willis, a silver medalist in the 2008 Olympics. Alan Webb, a former Olympian who officially concluded his illustrious professional career at the Wanamaker Mile. Lawi Lalang and Miles Batty, winners of multiple NCAA championships.
The list goes on.
And then you see Garn, who appeared in the NCAA regional final in the 1,500 last year.
“I wasn’t too nervous about [the competition],” Garn said. “I just knew it was going to be a great opportunity for me.”
“It was an absolute honor to be competing against some of the best in the world,” Garn added.
With NBC Sports’ cameras rolling and elite athletes flanking him on either side, Garn was shocked by the quick pace out of the gate. He fell behind instantly.
“The race got out much faster than I realized, and before I could even react to the blistering pace, I kind of fell off,” Garn said. “It was almost like there were two different races because they had gapped. I pretty much worked my way up the rest of the time and beat the guys I was around still.”
Garn managed to leave Webb and Batty in his wake, an accomplishment in itself. But he also placed eighth — the second-highest mark among the event’s four collegiate runners — and clocked in at 4:01.10, a personal record.
“[The time] wasn’t exactly what I was looking for,” Garn said. “I wanted to be faster than that.”
Other runners took notice of Garn’s resiliency after the slow start. After all the runners had crossed the finish line, Will Leer, who used a late surge to win the event, congratulated Garn for a solid performance.
“Talking to those guys was sweet — guys I look up to,” Garn said. “For them to be able to recognize who I am was really inspiring.”
One day, Garn hopes to be the athlete that inspires college runners. He has set a long-term goal of earning a spot at the 2016 Olympic trials, but first he will strive for a 2014 NCAA appearance.
The Bearcats will compete at the America East Conference Indoor Championships Feb. 23-24. Garn will tap his experience at the Millrose Games as he prepares for the conference meet, shooting for an NCAA qualifying time.
“[The Wanamaker Mile] was a great stepping stone, for sure,” Garn said. “It was by far the most elite race I had ever competed in, and to keep myself composed, relaxed and deal with the nerves against the highest caliber athletes means I can definitely maintain that when I’m competing at the America East conference meet and future meets.”