In some sports, running is considered a punishment. In most running sports, obstacles are removed from the course prior to the race. A select group of runners, however, purposefully set out trip hazards to hamper their progress.
These track masochists are called hurdlers.
Desert Hills senior Brad Wulfenstein is the top hurdler in the Utah high school ranks heading into this weekend’s state championships in Provo, but he didn’t consider running the hurdles until his sophomore year.
He spent his early athletic life pursuing his first love: football. He started as running back in seventh and eighth grade, but lost his starting spot his freshman year, getting only limited snaps as an undersized offensive lineman.
Brad’s football experience digressed further, until he found himself sitting at the end of the bench his sophomore year.
“Brad was always a little bigger and a little faster than the other kids growing up, and he was always very competitive,” Brad’s father, Steve Wulfentstein, explained. “But we looked at the sideline during one game and there were all the kids he’d grown up with and there was Brad, shorter than all of them.”
Having never ridden the bench, Brad became discouraged, questioning whether he should try to transfer to another high school for a fresh start or stick it out at Desert Hills. Brad’s sister Katie saw her brother’s frustration and suggested they join the track team.
“Me and my friends were originally going to join, just to have a sport to play, and you don’t have to try out,” she said, “But my friends all bailed on me, so I asked Brad and he said he’d do it if I did.”
Though he had agreed to join Katie on the track team, Brad was still skeptical.
“I thought, that sounds boring,” Wulfenstein said. “Nobody runs for fun, but maybe it could help me get faster and better conditioned for football.”
Though Brad hoped to focus on the 100-meter dash, Desert Hills track coach Dace Goulding wasted no time getting him lined up to hurdle.
“Coach Goulding used to be a hurdler for Hurricane, so he just tries everyone on them,” Wulfenstein said. “He wants everyone to do hurdles.”
Aside from his usual zeal for the hurdles, Goulding, saw potential in Brad to excel in the event.
Said Goulding, “He wanted to be a sprinter, and, even as a sophomore, he was really powerful coming out of the blocks. So, we threw a hurdle in front of him, and he was like a fish in the water the way he picked up on it.”
Wulfenstein reveled in the presence of obstacles littering the track. He saw them as an advantage.
“Why not have a hurdle, so my competitors can fall and let me win?” Brad joked.
After showing such promise as a sophomore, Brad was favored to take state his junior year, but came up short.
“He was the guy to beat, but it got in his head and came out too fast and started hitting hurdles and ended up taking third,” said Steve.
For his senior year, Brad cracked down and started putting in the time necessary to perform at a high level.
Said Goulding, “The three reasons Brad is so amazing this year: December, January, and February. That’s when all the time and preparation went in.”
His hard work has paid off, as Brad has posted the season’s top times in the 110 and 300 hurdles — regardless of classification.
Now that he’s the biggest and fastest on his team again, he draws on his experience sitting on the bench in football, and remembers to acknowledge teammates who work hard but don’t get to be in the spotlight.
“I like to see how mature he’s become,” said Goulding, “Whether he runs in college or not, track and field is going to go away, but lessons he’s learned about being positive, (having) a good work ethic … those are the lessons he’ll need in his daily life.”
Brad plans to join a college track and field team when he returns from his LDS mission to Uganda.