Comeback is nearly complete for Iowa-bound Panthers hurdler

Spring Lake Park standout hurdler CJ Janu knew if he wanted to salvage his final high school track season he would have to put in a lot of off-season work.

Panthers senior hurdler, CJ Janu, looks to regain his state-caliber form after recovering from a football injury. Photo by Jason Olson
Panthers senior hurdler, CJ Janu, looks to regain his state-caliber form after recovering from a football injury. Photo by Jason Olson

Wearing a grey Michigan t-shirt without the sleeves, showing a USA Track and Field logo tattooed on his right arm, Janu continued his pre-practice routine in the weight room he continued his recovery from an ankle injury that cut his senior football season short.

Coming off all-state performances in the 110 meter high hurdles, 300 hurdles and 4×200 relay, Janu had to be in the conversation as the top hurdler in the state.

He placed second in the 300 hurdles in 37.94 seconds, second to the defending state champion Park senior Rilwan Alowonle who set a new all-time Minnesota time of 36.59, breaking the mark of 36.97 set in 1987 by Minneapolis North’s Dan Banister.

Janu placed third in the 110 hurdles finals with a time of 14.55 as Alowonle swept both hurdles state titles. Janu was the top junior finisher in both events.

Janu also ran the third leg on the 4×200 relay which placed eighth in the finals in 1:29.92.

What began as a promising senior football season was quickly derailed three games into the schedule against St. Louis Park by a severely injured ankle or as Janu described it, “something popped loose in my foot.”

A previous injury didn’t fully heal and the result landed Janu on the operation table as doctors inserted screws to help the healing process.

After eight weeks in a cast and another three months of rehab Janu seems to be ready for one more high school track season before heading to Iowa City, Iowa to join the University of Iowa track team in the fall.

After last spring’s success, the letters poured into the Janu mailbox, over 100 he estimated.

“It was a hectic process because I was getting letters from schools I never heard of before,” he said. “We sifted through those which were and weren’t possibilities. It was a fun process and I know I made the right decision.”

Janu said the final decision came down to the University of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa State and the University of Iowa.

“Iowa just stood out to me on my official trip and it was the best fit overall for me,” he said about what the Hawkeyes track program had to offer especially coming off its first Big Ten Conference Championship title since 1967.

Each component of the university experience made an impression on Janu including assistant track coach Joey Woody who is a world champion runner and was ranked No. 2 in the hurdles events for Team USA at one time.

Janu plans to major in business communications.

His role with the Hawkeyes is to compete immediately once in Iowa City after the team graduates both of its top hurdlers this spring. Janu believes he will specifically work toward running the 400 hurdles instead of both the 100 and 400 at the next level.

While the Panthers track team spent a majority of its time in the hallways, gymnasium and weight room through March and April, the change from the typical outdoor practices didn’t affect Janu. “It’s just like training at the gym,” he said. “So its not different for me but we’ve tried to get out there on the track whenever its not raining or snowing. I don’t feel a setback at all. I haven’t had any problems with [the ankle].”

Timing seems to be a big component in the hurdling events where each step is precise in order to most efficiently leap over each hurdle.

Trying to get back up to full speed this spring has meant utilizing the school’s hallways.

“We were able to set it up in the hallway and surprisingly we’ve felt fine transitioning that onto the track,” he said.

An example came the third week of April as Janu ran a personal-best time in the 300 hurdles with a handheld stopwatch. “We had an intersquad meet but the P.R. doesn’t mean a whole lot because it was hand held,” he said about his race in what he describes as his stronger event, the 300 hurdles. “It’s more of a cardio event.”

He’s been running both events since his sophomore season.

Janu has run some Minnesota USATF events but nothing as an official member of the Minnesota or national track squads.

The late winter doesn’t seem to phase Janu who has waited long enough to return to competition: “I love track and their is no place I’d rather be.”

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