As Joe Mucklestone cleared the final hurdle, he eyed the clock straight ahead. It said thirty-seven seconds. His longtime goal had been to break forty seconds in the 300 hurdles. And this was the 2019 Kingco Tourney for his senior year – his last hurrah. Approaching the finish line, he went for broke -- in Marshawn Lynch style.
“So I hurled myself forward and made a tremendous fall,” Mucklestone said. “I really bruised up the left side of my arm and shoulder. I got 40.35, which was my fastest time ever.”
Last week, Joe Mucklestone graduated from Woodinville High School. He had capped off his prep track career in grand style. And now this week, he’ll be crossing another major threshold of his life, as he reports to the Air Force Academy in Colorado.
In these last remaining days of civilian life, he’s enjoying time with family and friends in Woodinville. He took time to reflect on his track and field days, before looking ahead to what’s to come.
When it comes to running track, Mucklestone is maniacal in his precision. This is not to paint him as Jack Nicholson’s character in As Good as it Gets. But still, everything has to be perfect. Perhaps a combination of preparation and superstition.
“I'm a very analytical type of guy,” he said. “I have to go out and hit a certain number of steps. I have to do five of this and that before my race. I have to take three sips of water. I have to make sure my blocks are lined up precisely… Then I'm ready to go.”
One thing he learned at Woodinville was that running hurdles depends on a good explosion out of the blocks.
“I didn't start setting PRs until I really began getting after it at the start,” he said. “I used to think it was a matter of how many steps you take between the hurdles. That is another part of it. But it's mainly how fast you get out to the first hurdle, because you're going to carry that momentum throughout the race. That's the goal of the hurdles, to not lose the momentum. Especially for me, as I'm only 5'9", so it's hard for me to recover [if he falls behind]. So I needed to be very technical in this race and make sure everything was right.”
Another benefit from Woodinville track was the social aspect. He felt it helped him develop as an athlete and as a person.
“That is something that has grown in me,” he said. “When I came in for my freshman year, I didn't focus on the social things. My sophomore year, I hit a bump in the road. I had shin splints and I never really PR’d that year. It forced me to focus on the team aspect of track and field and realize it's not just about your personal events. It's about the greater good of the team, especially if you're running relays.
“I made a lot of new friends that year,” he said. “That social development gave me a greater purpose to fight for. I learned a lot, especially going into a career where the team is the mission.”
That career he speaks of, this next chapter of his life, will be training to fly jets for the United States Air Force. Mucklestone has prepared for this moment. He completed Cascadia’s Running Start program, studied French for six years and obtained his pilot’s license. Add to this being awarded the Billy Mitchell Award while a member of the Civil Air Patrol. He feels ready for the next level.
“Flying jets would definitely be cool but honestly nobody in my family has been in military aviation,” he said. “For me it's not so much about flying jets as serving my country. Because both of my grandfathers served. One was in the Army, and one was in the Navy. It has always been something that I thought of. When I got to my junior year [in high school], I knew I needed to take action to be ready for what was to come. That’s when I got my private pilot's license and instrument training. This was so I can get a leg up on those who don't have it and give myself a better chance [at being a fighter pilot].”
He reports to the Air Force Academy on Thursday June 27. The crossing of another major threshold.
“I like to say I'm going from one Falcon family to another,” he said. “That’s because Air Force's mascot is a falcon. But honestly, there's a lot going through my mind. Right now I am trying to focus on the here and now with my family, and the few days left that I have with friends.
“But when I get there I'm not going to spend too much time worrying about myself,” he said. “I am well-seasoned in Air Force drill and ceremonies, Air Force customs and courtesies... I'm a little nervous but not so much. I know this is something that we need to get through. I’m a pretty fit individual, and I know the obstacle courses look fun, but I know there are going to be challenges.
“Everything they teach though will be to emphasize that if you're working by yourself you're not going to succeed,” he said. “You have to work with your teammates and work as a team. Because there are different skill sets across the team that you have to utilize. That's the name of the game.”