Jesse O'Connell had just made the varsity cross country team as a freshman at Westminster in 1996 when he developed a stress fracture in his right leg that caused him to miss most of the season.
The experience of making the team and forming bonds with older teammates made O'Connell realize he could have the chance to succeed as a runner, he said. It motivated him to try out for the track team that spring.
Westminster won a cross country state championship all four years of O'Connell's career from 1996-1999. He excelled on the track and went on to compete for Georgetown University's track and field team. After college, he competed professionally for Adidas for two and a half years.
These accomplishments have landed him in the Carroll County Sports Hall of Fame and he will be recognized in a ceremony Friday at Carroll Community College.
"It was a sense of being connected to something bigger, tracing on the transition of excellence," O'Connell said. "It meant a lot to us to be on the team [at Westminster] during that period of time."
O'Connell won individual indoor track state titles in the 800-meter run as a junior and senior, and captured the outdoor track 800 state title his senior year as well. He ran a leg on the Owls' 4x800 meter relay that won an indoor state crown during that same year, and repeated the feat in outdoor.
He also won the 1,600 outdoor state title as a senior and set school and conference records in the 400 and 800.
O'Connell earned Times Indoor Track Athlete of the Year awards in 1999 and 2000, and the Times Outdoor Track Athlete of the Year in 2000.
"Cross country is a team sport and there's a much stronger element of working together to have that level of team success," O'Connell said. "Track is more individual obviously with team scoring and we took that seriously. I'm very proud of my individual accomplishments in both indoor and outdoor..."
As his high school career wound down, O'Connell figured he had the chance to compete in college. He said his success at the high school level gave him confidence to be a national caliber runner as a member of Georgetown's track team.
O'Connell was runner-up in the 800 at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field championships as a senior. The 800 was O'Connell's favorite event and it's where he found the most success, he said. After college, he placed fifth in the 800 at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials, but did not make the team.
The Hoyas' 4x800 relay team won the Penn Relays twice, and O'Connell ran a leg on that team both years.
"Winning the Penn Relays twice was pretty special," O'Connell said. "It was a great crowd and there's a really long tradition there, it was awesome. Finishing second at the national championship senior year was a pretty special thing too, something I won't forget for a long time.
"Reflecting back on my college career, it was everything I hoped it would have been."
O'Connell, 36, is the Director of Federal Policy for the Lumina Foundation, based in Washington D.C. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with his wife and two children.