Hyytinen leads Farmington boys' runners by example
By RON HAGGSTROM, Star Tribune
10/14/2014, 8:44pm CDT
The Tigers’ Justin Hyytinen has helped mold the cross-country team with his stellar example.
Farmington's Justin Hyytinen digs deep as he approaches the finish line during the South Suburban Conference Cross Country Meet, Friday at Eagan High School. ] (Matthew Hintz, 101514, Eagan)
During his childhood days, Justin Hyytinen envisioned himself as possibly being a three-sport athlete in high school. Hyytinen enjoyed playing football, hockey and baseball. He was passionate about hockey.
The Farmington senior didn’t expect to be starring in something totally unassociated with any of the three as he approaches graduation. He is one of the state’s premier distance runners.
Hyytinen started running track in the spring of his freshman year and gave up football that fall to run cross-country. He didn’t decide to go out for the cross-country team until the opening day of practice.
“The first day of track I went with the distance runners,” Hyytinen said. “I kind of got hooked on it after that day. It was hard, but I loved it.”
It showed from the outset. At the end of his sophomore season in 2012, he posted a time of 16 minutes, 11.4 seconds over the 5,000-meter course to finish 29th in his first Class 2A cross-country state meet at St. Olaf College in Northfield.
“I think his first state meet convinced him he could have success as a runner,” Farmington cross-country coach Lisa Lippold said. “It’s easy to look up to a kid who runs great times, but Justin leads by example.”
Hyytinen gained even more confidence running track in his junior year. At the Hamline Elite meet, he edged Richfield senior Obsa Ali in the 1,600-meter run with a meet record time of 4:14.05. Ali, who had won the cross-country title earlier that school year, currently runs for the University of Minnesota.
“Beating Obsa was crazy,” Hyytinen said. “That was my holy-moly moment.”
Hyytinen opened this season ranked in the top 10 in the Class 2A individual poll by the cross-country coaches association. But things haven’t always gone as planned, though, due to injury and illness.
“I changed shoes this year and suffered plantar fasciitis,” Hyytinen said. “I decided to try and run through it. That was hard on me because it’s my final high school season.”
He recently won the Victoria Lions Invitational with a time of 15:40 over the 5-kilometer terrain. The Chaska course is one of his favorites to run.
“I didn’t perform as well as I could have when I was injured,” Hyytinen said. “I’m starting to get healthy now.”
It comes at the perfect time. The Section 1 meet is a little more than a week away in Owatonna.
“One thing I’ve learned as a runner is you have to have patience,” Hyytinen said.
He has taken just that approach as he has tried to lead his Tiger teammates to the state meet. The top two teams in the section qualify for state.
“He has shown incredible work ethic over the past three years that has reshaped our cross-country team tremendously,” Lippold said. “He not only leads our team in races, but does a great job motivating and leading our team at practice and outside of practice.
“During his sophomore cross-country season, our team Saturday group runs consisted of two or three runners. Now, in his senior year, we are seeing nearly every athlete take part in it.”
Hyytinen’s strong work ethic also carries over to the classroom. He sports a 4.16 grade-point average, ranking seventh in a class of about 450 students.
“Justin is an amazing student-athlete,” Lippold said. “He wants to lead by example and wants the younger kids to be able to look up to him as a role model.”
Hyytinen is a member of the National Honor Society and on the executive board, president of the Tiger Leadership Club, Student Council, Link Crew, Captains Council and a math tutor. A résumé like that has Division I schools clamoring for him to enroll.
“I love going to school, and it’s an atmosphere I thrive in,” Hyytinen said. “I pride myself on working hard.”