Making the podium for the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Indoor Track and Field Championships is no easy feat, especially for a first-year. But Leron Norton accomplished the feat two years ago as part of the men’s 4×400-meter relay team, something he considers to be one of the best achievements in his track career so far.
“Two of the guys on our relay at the time were seniors, so it meant a lot to me to do my best as a [first-year] to get them up on the podium,” Norton said.
However, the next year, Norton was hobbled by hamstring injuries during the indoor and outdoor track seasons, which made it difficult to build on his early success.
“In the offseason, I had a really, really bad hamstring pull in my left leg. I spent the indoor season of my sophomore year trying to get back into shape,” Norton said. “When it came time for outdoor season, I was finally putting things together, but in our third outdoor meet, I pulled my right hamstring. I repeated the entire process again and the only other race I competed in after that was conference at the end of May.”
This year, though he already reached the podium for the indoor season in the 4x400m relay at the MVC Indoor Track and Field Championships and he has his sights set on another podium finish for the outdoor season.
“We’re definitely a team that if we show up and run like the way we can, we could challenge for the conference championship,” Norton said. “I don’t think anybody on our team doubts our ability to do so.”
Norton has had a successful track career at Loyola so far, contributing to the 4x400m relay team, which has placed sixth or better at all five MVC Conference Championships he’s attended — including two podium appearances. However, track wasn’t his primary focus throughout most of high school.
“In high school it was definitely football. Track was definitely not my number one sport until my senior year of high school,” Norton said. “But my senior year, I got a concussion and missed half the season and it was pretty bad. It was one of those concussions that you come back from and you don’t know if you want to play the sport anymore.”
With Norton unsure of his future in football, he had a great track season senior year which put to rest any doubts he had about what sport he should pursue through college.
“My senior year I ran really, really well, a lot better than I ever had in my high school career,” Norton said. “That’s when my track opportunities started to open up.”
Loyola was one of those opportunities. Although it wasn’t immediately a perfect match, it was an easy choice once Norton visited the campus and experienced the university.
“Loyola is one of those schools that if you don’t know about it previously, like if you don’t know anybody that goes here or you don’t live in the area, it’s one of those schools you don’t really hear about, at least up until recently,” Norton said. “But when I came on my visit here for track and field, I instantly fell in love with the atmosphere. The environment and the culture of the school really made me come here.”
Throughout his time at Loyola, Norton has experienced success as well as struggles — especially injuries. He’s used these experiences as opportunities to help guide the underclassmen, both on his 4x400m relay team and the rest of the track and field team.
“I think the biggest thing is understanding that, regardless of age, all the people on our relay and all the people on our team in general are extremely talented and deserve to be here,” Norton said. “We’re all talented, educated young men, so I view it as helping your peers rather than ‘Oh, I’m older so I get to tell you what to do.’ That’s my mindset.”
One of the younger athletes who’s benefitted from Norton’s help and guidance is first-year Gift Chinda, who specializes in the triple jump.
“Really, since the first day that I arrived on the team [Leron’s guidance has] been nonstop,” Chinda said. “[He checks up] on me to make sure I’m doing well, whether it’s athletically or academically, and just being a good leader and mentor in any way that he can.”
Norton said he believes the track and field team is in a good position to end this season nicely. He credits this in part due to the work of head coach Bob Thurnhoffer, his staff and the environment they’ve created.
“I think our coaches have done a tremendous job in creating a culture that wants to have success on the track and in the classroom,” Norton said. “And I think that we are on a trajectory to finish really, really well and have a bunch of good marks by the end of the season.”
In his most recent meet, the Bryan Clay Invitational in Azusa, California, Norton finished 36th out of 95 contestants in the 400-meter race. He also competed as part of the 4×100-meter relay and together they finished seventh out of 13 teams. Loyola didn’t compete in the men’s 4x400m relay.
Norton and Loyola track and field are scheduled to compete at the Lenny Lyles/Clark Wood Invitational April 28 in Louisville, Kentucky.