EL’s Jones, Bennett forge strong bond

BY JOBY FAWCETT

Times-Shamrock Writer

Cleaning up after prom,ElkLake’s Will Bennett suffered serious injuries when he fell off a lift while taking down lights from the ceiling.

Luke Jones was sitting down for lunch when he learned about the accident and that Bennett was being flown toGeisingerCommunityMedicalCenterinScranton.

In that instant, both track and field standouts saw their lives change.

A state-medal winner as a junior, Bennett’s senior season abruptly ended. His next challenge would be to recover.

Also a state-medal winner as a sophomore, Jones would have to find a way back toShippensburgUniversityand the PIAA Track and Field Championships without his training partner and dear friend.

Using his fallen teammate as an inspiration, Jones will be back at the starting line for the 3200-meter run at Seth Grove Stadium on Saturday morning.

And Bennett will be with him every step of the way.

“It’s going to mean a lot, so I am going to be there,” said Bennett, who broke both wrists and fractured his jaw in three places. “I know he is going to do great. I think he will appreciate it too. I definitely think he can run better at states.

“It’s going to be special.”

During last spring’s track and field championship weekend, Bennett and Jones struck up a friendship.

Despite being teammates and both being distance runners, Bennett had been much closer to the seniors, including Mike Bedell, Sean Carney and Bryan Grosvenor. He won district and state medals with them in the 3200 relay.

Following states in 2011, Bennett and Jones realized they would have to carry on the tradition of great distance running forged by that senior class. So they began training together.

They would go on eight-mile runs, keeping the same pace the best they could. They would talk about their common interests like football and basketball and how much they enjoyed to hunt.

They developed a bond and as cross country season approached they shared the same goals.

“We really got to know each other during those runs,” Bennett said. “We spent a lot of time together. We did pretty much everything together

“He’s just a great guy.”

At the District 2 Class AA cross country championships, Jones qualified for the state meet, winning the gold medal in 16 minutes, 45 seconds. Bennett did not have his best day and placed 35th in19:18and did not advance.

But he refused to leave Jones high and dry.

Continuing to workout when he could have started resting and recharging his body for track season, he helped get Jones ready. And Jones responded with a second-place finish in Hershey.

“He’s just that good of a person,” Jones said. “He is a great role model. He did that out of the kindness of his heart. I was just flattered. He got right back out and kept training.

“I can’t thank him enough for that.”

- – -

Setting their sights on the spring track and field championships, their kinship blossomed.

Each intensified their practice regimens as they prepared to leadElkLakeinto the Lackawanna Track Conference Division III schedule.

Bennett held the top times in the 1600 and 800 for the entire season. His4:35in the 1600 would have him right in the thick of things at the District 2 Class AA track and field meet.

Jones had the top time in the 3200 and when the two were competing in the same event, they often did so running as one, crossing the finish line together.

“Having Will on the team really helped me a lot and I think I helped him,” Jones said. “We both had somebody who is there and just as good as we are to workout with.

“Plus, we related to each other and were able to get through the tough days.”

The days got even tougher when Bennett suffered his injuries just a week before the district meet.

“It was scary to think that my friend had been hurt,” Jones said. “It really bothered me. To see how hard Will worked, it made me feel terrible that he couldn’t finish this season.”

With his arms in a cast and his jaw wired shut, Bennett stayed positive.

“I was thankful that all of my injuries were fixable,” he said. “I would have never gotten through it without all the support of my family and friends.”

- – -

On a visit to Bennett in the hospital, Jones received the encouraging words he needed to get out of his funk and back to pursuing his goal of getting back to the state meet.

“He told me to ‘Just go get ‘em’,” Jones said.

Facing Holy Cross junior Rico Galassi, Jones, wearing his trademark fluorescent shoes and headband, led the 3200 for six of the eight laps. Still a bit off his game, he won a silver medal and qualified with a time of 9:34.11.

It wasn’t his best this season, but it will seed him third for the state meet.

And Bennett will continue to push his friend only this time from afar.

“It really helps me to think about him when I am running,” Jones said. “It will help me to go faster.

“I am doing this for him.”