GOLD COAST, Australia – Two local track athletes jumped at the opportunity to compete in Australia at the 15th Annual Down Under Track and Field Event.
Garrett Hitz of Prairie City School and Kenzie Wilson of Grant Union, who will both be seniors this fall, were invited to attend the meet which included 300 or more athletes competing at Griffith University.
Hitz, son of Joe and Nancy Hitz of Prairie City, earned gold in the pole vault event, reaching 4.04 meters (13.25 feet).
He also took silver in javelin, throwing a lighter rod than he’s used to, hitting the 48.68 meter mark (159.71 feet).
He also placed seventh in the 110-meter hurdles and eighth in the 300 hurdles.
Wilson, daughter of Jeanette and Charlie Wilson of John Day, finished fifth in the triple jump with 9.7 meters (31.82 feet) and sixth in the high jump with 1.40 meters (4.59 feet).
She also competed in long jump, but scratched in the event.
Both athletes said the experience will help them as they continue track and field at their high schools.
Hitz said he practiced hard and attended track and field camps in the months leading up to the trip.
He said it was his first time out of the country.
“Through this experience, I have seen the level of athletes that there are at my age group,” he said. “I think it has helped me in motivating me to become a better athlete and want to work harder in practice.”
Nancy Hitz, traveling along with her son, said the coaches instructing Garrett in pole vault told him to “look at his thumb instead of the bar” as he vaults up.
“It’s trusting and having faith that they’re in the right spot,” she said.
Garrett said he especially enjoyed the wildlife and the landscape, and visiting with the athletes from Australia.
Both he and Wilson said the time zone change was tough on them. Jet lag was hard to overcome, and competition started just two days after landing.
Wilson said she was impressed by her coaches.
“One ran in the Olympics,” she said. “They taught me new ways to work on my jumping and improve my technique.”
This was Wilson’s second time out of the country, but the differences between this trip and the European art trip she went on last year were amazing, she said, adding that it was funny to see Aussies wearing heavy coats in their 60-degree winter weather – while she and Hitz and other Americans wore their regular clothes.
Hawaii was a different story though. The tour included the opportunity for athletes to travel a few days in Hawaii – the entire trip was July 6-17.
“It was a fun break,” Wilson said.
She said one of the best parts of the entire trip was the friendships she developed with the other athletes.
“I made a lot of new friends from different places – it’s going to be nice because I plan to meet up with them later,” she said, “I enjoyed seeing more of the world.”
In the 2015 Prairie City High School track season, Hitz was 1A state champion in pole vault, fourth in javelin, fourth in 110 hurdles and fifth in 300 hurdles. Wilson earned third in long jump and triple jump at the Wapiti League District Meet.