Prep newsmaker: There's no stopping Two Harbors runner Paron

Jake Paron walked the halls at Two Harbors High School last spring appearing more like an elderly man than one of Northeastern Minnesota's top distance runners."I felt like one, too," Paron said. "It was painful."Now the stairs, those were a real...

Jake Paron walked the halls at Two Harbors High School last spring appearing more like an elderly man than one of Northeastern Minnesota’s top distance runners.
“I felt like one, too,” Paron said. “It was painful.”
Now the stairs, those were a real struggle, but Paron has recovered from injury well enough to compete in today’s Section 7A cross country meet at Cloquet Country Club, with the boys race at noon and girls at 12:50 p.m.
Paron, a Two Harbors junior who competes for the North Shore Storm, a co-op that includes Cook County, is the defending section champion. He was the Northland’s highest boys finisher at the state meet last season with a 10th place finish in Class A, covering file kilometers in a personal record 16 minutes, 34.1 seconds, or 5:20 per mile.
“I know I can still run a pretty good race, even with an injury,” Paron said. “I can block out that pain when I run. It’s afterward that kills me, just walking around. And if I push it too much, where I can no longer run on it, that’s really tough. I’m definitely focused on qualifying for the state meet, but I’m going to give it what I have.”
The top two teams and next eight individuals qualify for the state meet Nov. 5 at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.
Paron (pronounced pa-RONE) showed great promise in finishing sixth in the Class A 3,200 meters in ninth grade, shattering his personal record with a time of 9:48.92. He was the youngest runner in the top 12.
But Paron pulled both his IT bands in track as sophomore last spring. The iliotibial band is the ligament that runs down the outside of the thigh from the hip to the shin and is attached to the knee, helping stabilize and move the joint. The IT band can become tight or inflamed, making movement of the knee painful.
Paron raced four meets last spring but basically took the spring off. He went to the doctor before the subsection meet and decided to lay off, knowing it could jeopardize the rest of his high school career.
“It was just too much to risk,” he said. “It was only my sophomore year, and it was better to try to strengthen those muscles than hurt them even more.”
Nagging injuries are common with distance running, but in Paron’s case, it’s genetic and something he will have to deal with the rest of his running career.
“My joints do the opposite of how it should be,” Paron said. “My feet point outward and my knees roll in. It counteracts against running. It’s called ‘bull legged and over-pronation.’”
Usually people who are bull legged land on the inside of their foot. Paron lands on the outside.
“I was born that way and can’t change it,” Paron said. “It’s all in the bone structure.”
Paron got back into running in July and finished physical therapy around early August. He was feeling pretty good. He didn’t have any IT band issues except for some occasional soreness. But just last week, his patellar tendinitis flared up. Often called “jumper’s knee,” patellar tendinitis is an injury to the tendon connecting the kneecap to the shinbone.
The same thing happened last cross country season, causing Paron to take a couple weeks off. By off, it wasn’t laying on the couch eating Cheetos. Paron stays busy with cross training, riding bike or working out in the pool. While not the same as running, it helps him stay in shape while strengthening the muscles around the joints.
“The first time I went to the physical therapist, they said, ‘Oh, you have the worst bone alignment we’ve seen. The worst over-pronation we’ve seen. You don’t run, do you?’” Paron said. “I just chuckled and said, ‘Yeah, I do some running.’”
And Paron wouldn’t have it any other way.
But starting in sixth grade, the more he ran, the more it became an issue.
“Once I got into the mentality of training hard with that potential for state in mind, that’s what hurt, the extensive training,” Paron said. “My legs just can’t take over-strenuous training.”
Paron is hoping for his third straight trip to the state cross country meet. He skipped two races this fall to rest, but injury still seems inevitable.
“It’s tough, because right when you think you’ve overcome it, it comes back,” Paron said. “Unless you’ve had an injury, I don’t think you can really understand. It hurts mentally. I’ve learned to push it out and forget about it during races, but afterward, when I’m just walking around, that’s when it bugs me.”
Paron often runs on golf courses because the grass helps cushion the pounding on his joints. He ran as much as 50 miles per week this fall. He does 30 to 40 minutes of physical therapy after every practice.
Paron figures he is 85 percent healthy, but if his coaches know one thing, don’t count him out.
“Jake is a gamer. He’ll fight,” North Shore assistant coach Dan Hebl said. “He’s toughed through it in the past, so we’re optimistic for him, but we’d certainly love to just seem him happy and healthy. It doesn’t always work that way, but he’s not afraid to go after it.”
Paron was a hockey goalie since seventh grade but isn’t planning on going out this winter to take it easy on his knees, saving himself for track.
While he maybe wasn’t born to run in terms of bone structure, his endurance and will are state caliber.
“Everything isn’t going to be perfect in everyone,” Paron said. “Our bodies never seem to work quite right. I just try to work with the one I have and keep strengthening it. You can’t tell me I can’t run, because I definitely was born with the God-given talent to run, so I’m not going to push that way. I want to the best that I can be, so I’m going to work through the pain and injury even if it means taking a season off. You have to make sacrifices if you want to be elite.”

Prep newsmaker: Jake Paron
Prep status: Two Harbors junior/North Shore Storm
Age: 16
Sports: Cross country and track
GPA: 4.0
School activities: Fellowship of Christian Athletes leader
Family: Mother, Jill; father, Dean; brother, Justin, 12
Pet: Dog, Belle (a Brittany); cats Monty and Milton
Plans: I definitely want to run in college, cross country and track

Face-to-face with Jake Paron
If I could meet one person – dead or alive – who would it be? Steve Prefontaine
If school were closed today, I would: Stay at home and sleep in, listen to music, eat food and just chill. I’m really busy so I never get time to just work out.
Fear or phobia: Not really, I don’t have one. If I woke up and an alligator was standing in front of me, I wouldn’t be too happy, but no.
One thing most people don’t know about me: I’m color blind.
My ideal vacation: I like camping, so anywhere out in the woods. My ideal vacation would be in the Boundary Waters.
Pet peeve: When people don’t turn the light off when they leave the room.
Last website I visited: A school chemistry site
If I had a million dollars, I’d buy: A lot of smaller nice things. I’d definitely get an expensive laptop and some really nice speakers and music equipment.
The toughest athlete I’ve competed against: My best friend Kiviok Hight; he moved out to California in August 2015 to live with his dad. We competed in everything, and we’re talking about trying to get in the same college together.
Hobbies: Music; I like to rap a lot. Me and my buddies do some raps and make beats for fun. I have some studio equipment.
Favorite musical artist: Christian hip hop rapper NF
Car I drive: Toyota Highlander
Favorite home-cooked meal: Mom’s chicken Alfredo
At the top of my bucket list is: To run in college
What is your biggest superstition: I like to put in new spikes every race.
If you could star in any type of movie, what genre would it be: A comedy
What is the best pregame meal: Anything pasta
What is your pregame playlist: A lot of NF and a couple Eminem, Lecrae and Andy Mineo
Social media of choice - Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or other: Instagram

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
What To Read Next
Get Local