Having clocked the fastest times in the 100 and 200 meter races of any Class 4A athlete this season, Jilven Refil hopes to earn a medal at the state track and field championships next weekend.
In June, he’ll earn something more important — a high school diploma.
For the Union senior, neither would be possible without track and field.
Like a sprinter staying in his lane, track has kept Refil headed in the right direction as the finish line of high school approaches.
For the previous two years, he had little direction. Living half a world away from his parents, Refil’s rarely went to class.
The former national-level sprinter in Australia was running headlong down a dead-end road.
But Union sprinting coach LaMont Woods, who is a counselor at the school, re-ignited Refil’s passion for track. He spent most of the spring season working to get the grades to be eligible to compete.
And though Refil has only competed in four meets, his times and grades are enough to be recruited by Clark College.
His is a story that reminds us how sports offer rewards beyond the medals and championships we too often focus upon.
• • •
Until sixth grade, Refil lived in Vancouver. Then going by the name Jilven Yap, his 100 and 200 meter times still rank among the top dozen at Shahala Middle School.
Refil’s stepfather, who is Australian, moved the family to Melbourne in search of better fortunes for his concrete business.
Refil kept running. By the time he was 16, he had competed in national-level age group meets.
But he wasn’t happy. He longed to live back in Vancouver with his brother, who is older by six years.
“I wasn’t really having fun back in Australia with the school,” he said. “My mom told me ‘if you want to move back by the end of your sophomore year, just let me know.”
No nagging parents. Sharing a house with your brother. It sounds like a teenage dream.
Not so. Living without the support and structure of home, it wasn’t long before Refil started skipping class.
“It was a big change without my mom supporting me every day,” he said. “It was pretty hard. That was a big contribution to why I wasn’t the best with my education at the time.”
By his senior year, Refil described his report card as “D’s and F’s, straight across.”
“It was probably me just being lazy,” he said.
Yet, Refil was still fast. And though he wasn’t on the Union track team, he would look at the Union track record board and remember the pride he used to gain from running.
“Every time I looked, I was like ‘I kinda want to be up there.'” he said. “I like putting my records up there. It kinda makes me feel good about myself.”
• • •
Every successful high school track coach knows how to work the halls. There are always a few athletically gifted kids who, for whatever reason, never think to show up for the track team.
Union coach Scott Eschels heard murmurs about Refil
“We heard rumors that there was this kid who was pretty fast,” he said.
But it wasn’t until Refil connected with Woods that he considered coming out for the track team.
Woods was a standout football and track athlete at the University of Oregon in the mid-1990s. As a defensive back, he was part of the “Gang Green” defense that led the Ducks to the 1995 Rose Bowl. That year, he held the eighth fastest 100 meter time in school history.
Woods and Refil connected over sports. As Refil’s counselor, Woods can’t talk about their conversations. But it’s clear Woods was more concerned with GPAs than 50-meter splits.
“They, especially Coach Woods, pushed me a lot to just get my butt in gear,” Refil said of Union’s coaches.
“(Woods) really posited that idea that we want to help you finish your education here and finish with the team,” Eschels said.
• • •
Refil ran in one meet, a dual against Camas on March 22, before his grades rendered him academically ineligible.
He could have just quit. He could have just gone down the same dead-end road he was on.
But Refil had changed his flavor, thanks to that brief taste of being on a track team and the support network that comes with it.
“I checked myself right there and then,” he said. “I realized that grades really do matter. I like running, so I didn’t want to be stopped.”
For five weeks, Refil bore down in the classroom, especially taking a liking to history class.
With the goal of getting back on track, both literally and figuratively, he brought his grades up.
“Now they’re all B’s and C’s,” he said.
Refil returned to competition on May 4, Union’s final dual meet of the season. He clocked 10.74 seconds in the 100 meters and 21.94 seconds in the 200 — both in the top three among 4A athletes statewide.
But still, that was at a low-key dual meet. Blazing times at such events are usually met with skepticism.
But there was no doubt about Refil one week later at the Greater St. Helens League district meet. In the preliminaries, he ran personal-bests of 10.69 seconds in the 100 and 21.88 in the 200.
He went on to win both events and lead Union’s 400 relay to victory with a blazing anchor leg.
Suddenly, a guy few people knew about was the talk of the district meet. Refil was back on track.
Now, instead of hanging out and skipping class, he’s thinking ahead to the state meet and attending college.
“I honestly didn’t think anyone would be interested because of my grades,” he said. “My grades were that bad. I was like, it’s too late.”
He may have been behind, but Refil didn’t quit the race. And thanks to his 10.69 in the 100 meters, his name is now on that Union record board.
His name might be on that board for a while. But that’s not as important as seeing his name on something else.
Micah Rice is The Columbian’s Sports Editor. Reach him at 360-735-4548, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @col_mrice.