It’s been a while since our region has had a high school boys distance runner ranked high enough to pose a serious state championship threat. The last one was Central Kitsap’s Shane Moskowitz in 2010, who followed his prep exploits with a quality career running at Oklahoma State and has settled in as a home appraiser in Durango, Colorado.
Twelve years later, Klahowya senior Kelton Gagnon, a gifted athlete and son of Jodie and Dave Gagnon, is poised to break the West Sound record for the 3,200 meters that Moskowitz set at the 2010 state track and field meet, where he repeated as 3A champ in 8 minutes, 59.27 seconds. The year prior, Moskowitz had run even faster — a 8:58.86 in the two-mile at 2009 Nike Outdoor Nationals, which converts into an 8:55.73 when translated to 3,200 meters.
Gagnon, who turns 18 on May 30, gave a hint of what could be coming in April at the Arcadia Invitation in California, when he came from behind in his heat of 33 runners to win in 9:00.15, a substantial jump from his seed time of 9:17.4.
“You can see the race on YouTube,” said Klahowya track and field coach Jim Felty. “It was an amazing finish. He won by less than a second. He went past the (lead) runners in the last 100 meters. He ran past them all.”
Gagnon started out the race near the rear and gradually moved up on the pack, running in seventh place heading into the eighth and final lap. With 200 meters left, he was 10 meters behind the lead and halved that to five meters with 100 meters remaining.
It became thrilling and amazing from there. Gagnon, running on the outside lane, exploded past everyone to win. All of a sudden, Gagnon had put himself into position to make a good run at Moskowitz’s record, which many thought would last a long time. But, hey, records are made to be broken, and the 5-foot-9, 135-pound Gagnon just might do it this weekend at the state meet at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, which begins on Thursday.
“I would like to take that record away from him,” Gagnon said. “I like to break records. I like to run fast, and I know I can. It’s all about your mindset. You go into it with confidence, and then back it up.”
“I think he can run under 8:55 right now if he’s in the right race,” Felty said. “He’s super talented. Kelton will do some big things in the running world as he goes on. I think he will become a sub-4-minute miler and an all-American. He will have a shot at making the Olympic Trials one day.
“This kid doesn’t get sidetracked. He doesn’t get distracted. It’s the most amazing thing I have seen. His focus is amazing, and maybe that comes from his wrestling background (Gagnon placed fourth in state at 106 as a freshman and seventh at 113 as a sophomore). On race, day he has a different mindset. He really just hates to lose. He wants to do the best he can in every race. It’s amazing his mental capability.”
There is a second distance runner in Kitsap County who is bearing down on the 3,200. While Central Kitsap’s Blake Reynolds won’t run it at the state 3A state this weekend in Tacoma, he is only a sophomore. Reynolds’ 3,200 times — a best of 9:14.41 — determination and commitment make him an emerging threat to repeat what Moskowitz and now Gagnon have done.
Reynolds, in fact, has reached out to Moskowitz for help.
“He asked me for advice on what I think could help him to break my record,” said Moskowitz. “He messaged me on Instagram and said, ‘Hey Shane, I’m chasing your record and I would appreciate it if you gave me some advice.’ I told him to take it one lap at a time and just relax as long as you can. He’s running better than I ran as a sophomore. He is really good.”
“I know Blake,” Gagnon said. “We text pretty often on running and I have worked out with him once or twice. He’s a good guy. He’s going to be big in the (3,200). If I break Shane’s record, he will break my record.”
Gagnon holds Klahowya’s 800, 1,600, mile and 3,200 records and ranks second in the 400. His best times in the 800 (1:55.87), 1,600 (4:17.28) and 3,200 are tops among 1A runners this spring.
When Gagnon finished second to Olympia senior Ethan Coleman in the mile at the Shelton Invitational in April, he ran 4:13.06, which converts to 4:11.36 for the 1,600. Moskowitz owns the West Sound 1,600 record of 4:08.96, another time Gagnon has in his sights at state.
Gagnon has played football, wrestled, and played soccer and baseball during his athletic career. He was on a premier soccer team and played all the way through middle school. But it was baseball where he really made the spotlight. He played on a select team as a catcher out of Port Orchard and made an All-American team after a series of tryouts with players from Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Utah and Colorado that played in a national All-American Tournament in Florida.
He dropped baseball going into his sophomore year to concentrate on running.
“I found I like my failures to be on me, and on a baseball team you depend on others and not yourself,” Gagnon said. “You are pushing yourself all the time. I wasn’t always the amazing runner I am now. I wasn’t even a distance runner at that point.”
His football career ended when in the seventh grade he ran straight into a light pole trying to run down the ball and had his arm in a cast for four months. So he ran cross country that fall, following in the footsteps of his older brother, Tanyr, who now is a junior at Eastern Washington.
In November of 2021, Gagnon took second in the 1A state cross country meet. He got beat by Jamar Distel of Riverside, but it was a memorable finish nonetheless.
“I took second by diving over the finish line and beat third place (Reid Headrick of Medical Lake) by about .05 seconds,” Gagnon said.
Shifting to running has changed his life in a dramatic way in the classroom. He has become more determined, disciplined and focused and has gone from a 3.3 grade point average to a 3.95 GPA his junior and senior years.
Gagnon will continue his running for Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, where he will likely compete in 5,000, 10,000 and 3,000 steeplechase races. He likes that Weber State has the academic program he is interested in — biomechanics, the study of human movement — and applying that to the execution and evaluation of human performance.
“I like biology and it’s a lot like physics,” said Gagnon, who could not only use the knowledge to help him in running but to “help people improve their form and improve their health for sure.”
What’s certain is Gagnon’s running has already helped him in many ways.
“It’s made me a better overall person, made me have better habits, a better family member, better friend and a better student,” he said. “I think everybody should take up running. It’s cheap, good for your health, good for you mentally.”
The pandemic has taken millions of lives around the globe and has changed society in ways we could not imagine. Some reactions to COVID-19, though, were good for Gagnon.
“I was one of the few people COVID was nice to,” he says. “I learned so much about myself. I had a lot of time to run and be with myself and with my thoughts.”
Last summer he ran over 240 hours, lifted weights, and changed his diet and nutrition. All the changes, all the discovery about himself, have put Gagnon in the spotlight as the state’s spring sports seasons conclude this week. It’s not impossible to think his performances at Eastern Washington may be remembered for a long, long time.
Terry Mosher is a longtime Kitsap County sportswriter who writes a regular column for the Sun about local sports personalities. Contact him at email@example.com.
STATE CHAMPIONSHIP TRACK AND FIELD
Class 4A/3A/2A meet: Thursday-Saturday at Mount Tahoma High School, Tacoma
Class 1A/2B/1B meet: Thursday-Saturday at Eastern Washington University, Cheney