Lansing state champion runner returns home to compete in Trials of Miles Kansas City Qualifier

Jason Brown
The Leavenworth Times
Shown is TJ Robinson competing for the University of Central Arkansas during the 2021 indoor track and field season.

A little over a year ago, the COVID-19 pandemic ended the high school athletic careers of many local senior athletes set to compete in the 2020 spring athletic season. 

For the majority of those seniors, the two or three months of competition lost last year represented the last time they would compete with their teammates, work with their coaches and take their home fields after years of hard work. 

Thirteen months later, a local state champion is slated to compete in his hometown for the first time since before the pandemic began at the Trials of Miles Kansas City Olympic Trial Qualifier Saturday at the University of Saint Mary. 

Terry "TJ" Robinson, now a freshman at the University of Central Arkansas, entered his senior track and field season last year at Lansing High School with intentions of capitalizing on a somewhat unexpected junior year in 2019. 

"Going into my senior year, I was training as hard as I could and trying to do everything right," Robinson said, "because I wasn't expecting to become the runner I became in my junior year."

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'I decided I was going to do everything right'

Robinson ran competitively for the majority of his youth for an AAU team but said it wasn't until high school that he realized what was necessary to be as good as he wanted to be. After spending most of his years not cracking the top 30 or 50 sometimes, he buckled down and achieved All-American status in his final three years of AAU competition.

Shown is TJ Robinson at an AAU competition in 2014 when he was 12-years-old.

As a sophomore, Robinson took sixth place in the 800-meter run at the 5A state championships, finishing with a time of 1:59.58. That unexpected improvement came a year later when he claimed the 5A state championship in the same event, shaving over three seconds off his time (1:56), and beating out second place by more than a second. 

Robinson said his performance in 2019 helped him realize that he could be even better. 

"I decided I was going to do everything right and try to go for state records," he said, "but you have to have a senior season to do all of that."

On the bright side, the loss of his senior season didn't affect Robinson's plans to attend UCA in the fall as he had already made his commitment. While making his decision early led to some potential missed opportunities with other schools, Robinson said his decision to commit before COVID-19 has worked out well because of how UCA values its running programs. 

"I had a really good offer and deal, so I took it early," he said, "and if I didn't take it before COVID, I don't know if I would have gotten anything like it. Some programs this size don't take their runners to big meets like OSU or Texas like we have done this season."

Prior to joining UCA, Robinson continued training through the summer, participating in time trials and a small meet. He has also spent time indulging in his hobby of fishing. 

Upon arriving in Conway, Arkansas, as a freshman, Robinson ran with the cross country team in the fall for a handful of meets before transitioning to the indoor track and field season. 

His success on the indoor track included setting a school record in the 600-meter run in January. He started the season with his time in the 800-meter run hovering around 1:53, but has knocked another three seconds off and is ranked 95th in NCAA Division I. With many goals already accomplished in less than a year of college competition, Robinson will gladly take the opportunity to return home and do what he couldn't as a senior in high school. 

"It's going to be really special having my family and friends who couldn't see me run during my senior year there," he said. "It will be fun to show them what I have been up to for the last year and how I have progressed." 

Robinson suggested entering the race to his coach and the rest was history. He qualified for the main event 800-meter run due to his time of 1:50.33 coming close enough to the standard of 1:49.99, meaning he will be running with some of the top college and professional runners at the event. 

He won't be going alone either. 

Robinson also traveled back to Leavenworth with five members of his team who are also competing at the event. 

"It's going to be a lot of fun," he said. "We're going to head up there on Friday and hopefully run some really fast times this weekend."

Robinson said he plans to taper – a method of training that is used by runners to achieve peak performance in a race – for this event in hopes of running an NCAA regional qualifying time.

In just his freshman year, Robinson has plenty of time to improve and at the rate he is doing so, it won't be shocking to see him making noise in years to come. 

For more information about the Trials of Miles event, visit trialsofmilesracing.com