Jake Higgins discovered running when he was eight and his parents were going through a divorce. “My dad moved away and I was going through a tough time,” said Jake. “I just felt better after I ran.”
Now a 16-year old junior at Jesse C. Carson High School in North Carolina, Jake recently completed his first XTERRA in Myrtle Beach with his father. They both finished in the top 25 percent.
“Track meets can get a little boring,” said Jake, who is the fastest 800-meter runner and miler in his school. “But it’s fun to travel to the woods and race. I have a lot of hobbies but I always come back to running on the trails. For one thing, I get to be out in nature. For another, I know that when I’m having a rough time running, I can dig in and keep pushing and I’ll get there.”
Lesley Paterson, two-time XTERRA World Champion, believes that triathlon is as much a spiritual practice as it is a sport. “Triathlon is so much more than swimming, biking, and running. It’s a microcosm of life. In XTERRA, you are always outside your comfort zone. But bit by bit, as you achieve, you gain so much self-respect and self-confidence.”
Jake's father, Jon Higgins, agrees. "Triathlon takes a lot of training and you usually aren't going to be good at it right away. It's our job as parents to build our kids' spirits so they can eventually do it on their own."
Jake relies on the support of his friends and teammates but he is primarily self-motivated. His goal is to go to North Carolina State and major in engineering. “I want to bring my ACT score up a bit, but I’m not quitting track to study. Running is such a good stress reliever that I’m more motivated to study after practice or working out. When I run, I actually do better in school.”
“My roots are mountain biking and trail running and I’ve always done that with Jake,” said Jon Higgins. “He has always been my little buddy, and if he’s on the trail with me, I get to hang out with him. I decided to provide him with the gear and the encouragement so we can keep riding together.”
Jake says that his father’s support is important to him. “I know my dad supports me 100 percent. It makes me want to do my best,” said Jake who also admits that his father can be stern. “My dad definitely pushes me and even though it’s annoying sometimes, it helps me. Whenever I go to the skate park or go surfing, he says, ‘That’s not going to make you faster,’ and I think, ‘I’ll show you!’”
Jon Higgins admits that training with your teenager can sometimes be challenging and surprising. “He just started XTERRA. This was his first one so I kept telling him to ride and run but instead, he took a job giving surf lessons and went skateboarding with his friends I kept telling him to focus and he kept saying, ‘I’ll show you.’ Well, he certainly did! He’s a natural.”
Jake’s advice to other parents is to not be too harsh. “But don’t be too easy on your kids either,” he suggests. “You have to help your kids find their niche, but you also have to figure out what makes them want to work for it. If your kids aren’t reaching their goals, just try something different.”
“I love that Jake shares my interest in being outside,” said Jon. “Probably my favorite thing right now is to be able to hang out with him on runs or biking on the trail. I’m super proud of him. He’s doing great in everything and hopefully, he’ll take this forward into the rest of his life.”
Both Jake and Jon are planning on doing XTERRA Whitewater in July and are thinking about XTERRA Oak Mountain next year. “He could beat me in XTERRA Whitewater,” admits Jon. “But I’m going to try really hard not to let that happen.”
Jake is a bit more relaxed about racing than his father. “My dad is big on setting goals,” he said. “But instead of setting a goal or getting anxious about it, I just say, ‘I’m going to run as hard as I can.’ Then I go run as hard as I can.”
Learn more about the XTERRA Whitewater at usnwc.org