June 7 was no ordinary day for Grant Jackson.
The Rosemount High School senior received his diploma Saturday along with 521 of his classmates, and he earned three podium place finishes at the Minnesota State High School boys track meet.
The convergence of sports and academics on that day was a fitting end to Jackson’s four years at Rosemount. The three-sport athlete graduated with a near 4.0-grade-point average, and is among the estimated 15 percent of applicants accepted to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, this fall.
Jackson’s accustomed to moving fast both on the track and in life. At the end of the month, he will start basic training.
It will be an intense regimen of physical and mental workouts, and Jackson notes that it will be without any access to electronics.
“Going from this ‘luxurious’ lifestyle and going into this type of atmosphere, it is going to be a big change,” Jackson said.
It’s a process that he isn’t completely unfamiliar with as Jackson’s older brother, Adam, applied for and was accepted to the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2012.
“The hardest part for him was the first year,” Jackson said. “Universally, that is what I have heard from other cadets.”
Jackson has demonstrated that he has the physical and mental toughness to excel at West Point.
He played running back on the football team that advanced to the state final in 2013, and was on a much improved wrestling team this year.
But it is on the track where Jackson feels the most comfortable.
He holds the school records in the 100 meters (10.89) and 200 (21.82), and he placed third in the 200 and fifth in the 100 and 4 x 100 at the state meet on Saturday.
Jackson says running the 100 is his favorite.
“The biggest thing for me is the start,” he said. “If you put in the time and have good coaches like we have, that is enough. The 100 is the most technical race. My time has dropped significantly because of those improvements.”
“It has been great for the coaches and team in general to have Grant around these last four years,” boys track coach Jay Hatleli said. “He really started to develop late in his junior season and became very elite in his senior year. His dedication and work ethic are models for everybody to follow.”
Jackson said he is looking forward to competing at the next level as Army vies in the Patriot League.
“It seems pretty cool,” Jackson said. “I have always wanted to serve and, in track, I wanted to compete at the Division I level. Those are the two things I always wanted.”
“Grant, along with teammate Payton Otterdahl, have been the leaders of this team for the last couple of years,” Hatleli said. “It is our belief that the work ethic and approach to the sport will resonate long after he leaves. The example has been set for younger athletes to follow.”
Jackson also has found it pays to be dedicated in the classroom. He said math wasn’t his favorite subject, but now it is one of his best because of the attention to detail it requires.
He likes math because of its real-world applications and describes himself as a “math and science guy,” whose possible major is engineering management.
While summer is traditionally a break from the academic world, Jackson was hard at work in the summer of 2013 completing the extensive applications for three military academies.
Jackson said each has character-based essay questions that were unique, so there was little chance for crossover material. Plus there were background and medical checks.
“It was a little stressful,” he said.
He also attended a summer seminar at the Naval Academy where he learned about life at the military academies.
“I really like it,” he said. “A lot of people don’t like the idea of waking up early in the morning and exercising. I like how everything is planned out.”
Jackson traces his interest in serving in the U.S. military to one of the darkest days in American history – the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2001.
Though he was a child when it happened, the events have made an impact on him.
“I thought, ‘What can I do?’ Those were some horrible things that happened,” he said. “That has encouraged me to serve in the military and be a part of a team that’s bigger than me.”
Email Tad Johnson at [email protected].