RANTOUL — When Garet Kinnett returned from Texas, the 90-plus degree temperatures in Rantoul must have felt like a crisp and cool autumn day.
The rising junior at Rantoul Township High School came back to his hometown as one of the best track and field athletes in the nation after competing in the decathlon at the Amateur Athletic Union’s National Junior Olympic Games in Humble, Texas, where temperatures on the track reached nearly 110 degrees.
The heat did not treat Kinnett’s stomach too kindly, and the 16-year-old “lost his breakfast” after the final event (400-meter dash) on the first day.
“It was terrible,” Kinnett said. “It got to me after day one. I completed the 400, and it just all came out. It was rough. I’d lay down and think I was all right, but I’d get back up and it was like, ‘Well, it’s going to come out anyway, so I just might as well do it.’”
Kinnett scored 5,047 points in the 10-event competition, which was held July 30-31, and finished 18th overall out of 37 athletes.
“It’s probably the best experience I’ve had athletics-wise,” Kinnett said. “Doing all of those events in two days with the heat and having all of those fans there was pretty amazing.”
Kinnett, however, is his biggest critic, and he felt he could have and should have done much better than he did.
He had never competed in or trained for a decathlon until earlier in the summer, but he hoped to have competed at a higher level in his long jump and the 110-meter hurdles, an event for which he qualified for state as a sophomore at RTHS.
“I was pretty down on myself,” Kinnett said. “You could see it in my face. It was pretty bad. I looked and saw that I was 18th, and that’s not bad. Some people don’t even make it there, so 18th out of the whole country isn’t bad. But I was still pretty down on myself for how I competed.”
Kinnett came in second at the No. 13 AAU regional tournament in early July to qualify for the national tournament. His runner-up finish earned him the privilege to ride in a car for 16 hours from Rantoul to Humble on a trip that spanned more than 950 miles.
But it was worth it, Kinnett said.
“It was long,” he said. “We left around 6 o’clock in the morning and didn’t get in until 1 o’clock in the morning the next day. It was rough, but it was a really good experience. Going out of state and traveling 16 hours to compete against some of the best athletes in the country in the decathlon was really good.”
Kinnett’s stepfather drove the entire way down, but the 16-year-old added some miles to his freshly minted driver’s license and took control of the steering wheel from Memphis back to Rantoul.
“It was really fun. I’ve never driven that long before,” Kinnett said. “We were going to fly, but we had my pole vault and javelin, and that would have cost quite a bit to take on the plane. So we said we’ll just drive and not have the hassle.”
Kinnett said he would not have gotten as far as he has in his track and field career without the support of his stepfather.
“I really wouldn’t have gotten into track or hurdles without him. He went to nationals in college and was an athlete at Monmouth College and ran the hurdles there,” Kinnett said. “I was in the fifth grade, and he told me I should try hurdles, so I did. He’s helped me throughout my entire track career. He’s played a big part, and he means a lot to me.”
RTHS alum George Washington also played a major role in Kinnett’s AAU success, and he made the 16-hour trek as well. The state runner-up in the long jump acted as Kinnett’s trainer for the decathlon.
“He was a big part of this. He’s still in college and works a job, and he sacrificed a lot of his time,” Kinnett said. “We spent five or six days down there, and he could have been here working and making money.”
Kinnett and Washington have formed a good relationship over the past few years. During Kinnett’s time at St. Malachy, he would joke around with Washington while he was practicing with the high school team.
“I was a little eighth-grader, and I would always be messing with him,” Kinnett said. “I’d be saying, ‘Oh, I’m faster than you.’ We’d be down there messing with the blocks, and I’d say, ‘Lets race.’ Ever since then we’ve had a pretty tight bond and we’ve always been there for each other when either of us needed anything.”
Although the overall result was not what he wanted, Kinnett said the experience has been great motivation for him to continue working on his craft.
“Hopefully what I’ve accomplished this summer I can bring back next season to the team and make it to the state track meet again and make it further to finals,” he said. “I want to compete with the best and compete to the best of my ability.”
Kinnett said he is grateful to the many people who have supported him, from classmates Sam Hall and Elijah Hall to the strangers on the street and the golfers on the links who have come up to congratulate him
“Rantoul is a great town, and I love everybody here,” he said. “I’ve gotten a lot of support from everybody here. Even though it’s small community, we all come together.”
Of course, he cannot leave out those who have been by his side for his entire life.
“All of my family, I want to give a big thanks to them,” Kinnett said. “They’ve always been there for me.”