Since the last time Montezuma-Cortez High School sports fans saw Austin Wagner at the Colorado State Track and Field Championships just over one year ago, he has grown a bit more muscular and he has traded in his orange and black uniform for one affixed with blue and gold.
The former M-CHS state champion triple jumper’s easygoing personality remains unchanged, as does his knack for flying great distances and ending up at the top of track meet standings.
After graduating from high school last year, Jackson signed on to compete on the track team at Webster University, a Division III college in St. Louis, Missouri, which currently educates about 17,000 students.
Known more for its educational acumen than its track team, the St. Louis university was more than happy to welcome Wagner to its team. And the former M-CHS standout was more than happy to the school’s quality academic programs and well-regarded coaching staff.
“The team does a great job of supporting one another, and the coaches have been good,” Wagner said. “My jumping coach, (Morgan Scott) qualified for NCAA Nationals several times, and the team’s head coach was a great high jumper. The coaching staff creates custom training for each individual person, and the team comes together when it’s race time.”
After arriving at Webster University last fall, Wagner immediately made his presence felt with an outstanding indoor track season, which included several high finishes and a school-record jump for indoor track with a mark of 44 feet, 4¼ inches.
Wagner then moved to the outdoor season, where he broke the school’s outdoor triple jump record and finished second at the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championships with a mark of 44 feet, 8½ inches.
As a result of his accomplishments during the outdoor season, Wagner was voted the “Field Newcomer of the Year” by the conference’s head coaches and was recognized as a member of the all-conference team.
Asked about the differences between high school and college competitions, Wagner immediately mentioned an increase in intensity before noting that placing well in college competitions requires near-perfect performances.
“At the college level, I felt like everybody was on the same playing field as me,” Wagner said. “In high school, I won every meet effortlessly. In college, I stopped winning every meet, and I had to really try to put the effort out there. It’s more rewarding to make the podium.”
As impressive as Wagner’s season was, it was not without adversity as health issues forced him to miss large portions of practices and complete only 30 percent of his team’s total training regimen on the season.
“I ended up getting something in my chest, and every time I would run, I would pass out,” Wagner said. “The doctors couldn’t really find anything, but we had to limit my training a lot.
While missing training was frustrating for Wagner, he indicated that his high level performances over the course of the year gave him hope that will jump even farther in coming years as he completes more training.
Asked about his goals for the remainder of his college career, Wagner said that he would like to qualify for NCAA Nationals and jump in the 14.6 meter range. He added that he hopes to continue excelling academically as a computer science major.
“Finals were really tough there at the end, but I held between a 3.8 and a 4.0 GPA,” Wagner said. “I enjoyed the small class sizes at (Webster University), and the professors were really flexible with athletes.”
Now more than a year removed from winning the Class 3A state title in the triple jump, Wagner said that he will never forget his time as a member of M-CHS’ team, thanks to his teammates and his coaches.
Offering advice to young athletes in the area who might aspire to one day compete at the level that he competes at now, Wagner emphasized that training and dedication are keys to success.
“Pain is weakness leaving your body, and if you’re not really hurting, you’re not getting anything from (your training),” Wagner said. “To get to that next level, you have to put yourself out there and strive for it.”
Wise words, to say the least, from one of Cortez’s most successful high school and college athletes.