Theisen national title still resonates

Black Hills State University’s Jonah Theisen celebrates upon winning the NCAA Division II men’s 3000-meter steeplechase title in 2016. Pioneer file photo

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SPEARFISH — Jonah Theisen most remembers the unexpected nature of the NCAA Division II men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase title he earned in 2016 while at Black Hills State University.

“Coming in as a freshman and never having run the steeple(chase) before that season,” Theisen said in recalling that nature. He said he was originally not going to run that event this season, with his best chance coming in a 10-kilometer race.

When it came time for that final national steeplechase event, Theisen recalled feeling the most confident he ever had been before a race. He attributed that, in part, to having run a sub-9-minute time in that event a couple of weeks previously.

“In that (nationals) prelim, I ran really well, too,” Theisen said. “It felt super smooth; it didn’t feel like I had over-exerted myself. I just felt like I had a real shot to win it.”

He won his preliminary heat in 9 minutes 3.74 seconds. That gave him the top time for the final, where he placed first in 8:53.29.

Theisen thought he had a chance to win but was shocked when it happened. His effort enabled him to become the school’s first national champion in the Division II era.

“It really took a while for it to sink in,” he recalled. “I started getting congratulations texts and stuff, and it was like, ‘Wow: I did it.’”

Theisen had earlier watched a number of steeplechase races, and the event seemed like fun. He added the longer races get somewhat monotonous, as runners circle a track several times depending on the distance.

Steeplechase was one of coach Scott Walkinshaw’s favorite races. That, coupled with Theisen’s desire to try it, started him in the event.

Training for steeplechase did not require quite as much mileage as for a 5,000-meter race. It includes a bit more speedwork and strength work, Theisen said.

He was quoted in 2016 as saying the steeplechase was mentally easier for him than a traditional long-distance race. Asked about that this week, Theisen stood by that statement.

“When you’re in a steeplechase, you have to watch those barriers coming up,” he said. “You never really have time for your mind to drift into those dark spots.”

Theisen said that title set a standard for him over the next three years.

“It definitely gave me something to strive for,” he said. “I did it, so there’s no reason I can’t do it again.”

Theisen was unable to reach that stage again, but the rest of his career was not without its accomplishments.

Other highlights included All-American cross country honors as a senior. He regarded that as his most favorite accomplishment after the national title.

Theisen also anchored an All-American distance medley relay. Black Hills State finished sixth at the 2019 national indoor meet. The quartet tied a school record at 9 aminutes 49.47 seconds.

He added he was able to accomplish many of his other goals while at Spearfish.

“The best years of my life,” is how Theisen described his Black Hills State years. His teammates and coaches made things fun for him, and he also loved the Spearfish area.

“Just being able to spend that time with all my friends, everyone that I love, trumps winning,” Theisen said. “They’re always going to be there.”

He said his college memories would be very similar to what they currently are, had a national title not been part of the equation.

Theisen graduated from Black Hills State in 2019 and earned two degrees: chemistry, and physical science.

He is at Montana State University in Bozeman studying in the chemistry doctorate program. That is a five-year program, and he just completed the first one.

Theisen would like to return to running and is currently trying to run five days per week.

“Right now, there’s nothing to train for,” he said. “I don’t have the time to really take it as seriously as I did in college.”

Theisen’s Black Hills State experiences are helping him these days. He said he has a support system like he did as a Yellow Jacket.

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