Big 12 Campus Correspondent
The track career of Kansas State senior sprinter and hurdler Jeffrey Julmis has been nothing short of spellbinding. From injury to rejuvenation, Julmis has gone from surgery and a near season-ending blood clot to recovering and placing among the best in the country.
Julmis came to K-State after spending two years at Cloud County Community College in Concordia, Kan. With Concordia not far from Manhattan, he was able to compete in meets hosted by K-State at Ahearn Field House and R.V. Christian Track Complex. This enabled longtime Wildcat head coach Cliff Rovelto to see the competitive side of Julmis.
"When he approached me with the opportunity to come to K-State it was an easy decision because I had been here and knew the coaches and they knew me so it sealed the deal for me," said Julmis. "The school that I really wanted to go to was interested in me the entire year, but called me a couple of days after I signed with K-State, so it was out of the question."
Historically, K-State has not invested a significant amount of aid in any one event area such as sprinters and hurdlers. Most programs around the country don't invest a big chunk of their scholarships in a specific area especially a sprint group.
"The reality is that we have really gotten high value in what scholarships we have invested in sprinters and hurdlers over the last 20 years, but because we have not invested as much as some other programs normally do," said Rovelto. "The numbers are not going to be as good as some other programs, but for the bang for our buck, it has been one of the best areas in our program during the time that I have been here."
Many of the successful hurdlers in high school fall short of success at the collegiate level due to the size of the hurdles. In high school, hurdlers are racing with 39 inch hurdles as opposed the 42 inch variety used in college.
"The men's hurdles is one where there is not an over abundance of kids coming out of high school that can make the adjustment to the 42-inch hurdles because they are using 39-inch in high school and do it at a high level," said Rovelto. "If you look at a lot of high school lists from the previous five or six years and look at how many have been able to find success in college with the 42-inch hurdle, it is a relatively small number, there are a lot of fast people at the 39's that just cannot handle the 42's."
The fact that K-State has had the good fortune with such hurdlers as Balazs Baji, Mantas Silkauskas, Jared MacLeod and Julmis is extremely rare. Rovelto said there is probably one other school in the country, that being USC, that has two hurdlers of the caliber of K-State's group. Having one that is good is rare but to have two is really unique.
"I think that both of those guys, Jeff and Mantas, including Balazs last year have all benefitted from having each other around because they are running at a very high level in practice," said Rovelto.
In spite of the injuries that Julmis has faced he has really made a lot of progress. He is a lot faster and stronger and his best characteristic is that he is such a strong competitor.
"A lot of guys have a little bit of an edge and are a little bit cocky but Jeff backs it up day in and day out," said Rovelto.
Julmis had a knee injury that carried over from his high school career that followed him to junior college.
A combination of training and racing at a higher level wore down the knee when he got to Cloud County.
His freshman year he dislocated his knee cap which tore cartilage in his knee. Initially, surgery was performed before the fall and doctors thought they were going to have to do a follow-up surgery that most likely would have sidelined him for the entire year.
Julmis joined the team again a year ago in January and prior to that was training on his own and had not done much, especially not as much as the guys did in the fall.
"When he came in he was not in very good shape but through the spring, both in indoor and outdoor, he was able to run himself back into good shape," said Rovelto. "As we entered the fall, even though he was going into surgery, he was better than he was the previous year."
Julmis was getting back into shape and back into the swing of things with the team when he started feeling tightness in his calf that gave him a lot of pain and discomfort. He went to a doctor to get a second opinion and found out that he had a blood clot due to the surgery. Doctors put him on blood thinners and told him it would be four or five weeks of complete inactivity.
"At that point we were thinking that his indoor season is probably shot but as long as they got it under control he would be good to go when it came to outdoor season," said Rovelto.
When Julmis was cleared to train in January, he got back into training and after a couple of weeks he looked as good as ever according to his coaches.
His first race back was at the SEC/Big 12 Challenge at Texas A&M at the end of January. Julmis ran just fine his first race out with no apparent pain or discomfort from his surgery and he continued to make progress.
"He ran well in terms of who he beat but he just did not have that one fast time that would get him to nationals," said Rovelto. "He and I drove down to Arkansas for the Last Chance meet and he got a personal record, broke the school record, ran fast and qualified for nationals and he went there and got fifth. For that to happen given what he went through was nothing short of miraculous."
His ability to come back at the pace in which he did speaks to how competitive he is and the mindset Julmis has. In his mind there was no doubt that he was going to go out and perform the way he did.
"He is a guy that you want in your corner, if you are in an ally fight, you want him at your back and those are the kind of people that you want to go into battle with," said Rovelto.
Nothing was going to keep Julmis from competing at a high level and continue to excel on the track. Julmis credits this to his past experiences with injury.
"I think being injured with my knees before really helped shape my rehab like being able to get it done faster," said Julmis. "Once I had come off of the blood clot, I was hungry to get back and make nationals so I was just hungry and really wanted to get back onto that track and get going so really it was nothing."
Since his recovery from surgery and the complications with the blood clots his performances have been nothing short of spectacular.
At the Arkansas Final Qualifier on March 4, Julmis posted a school record and personal best in the 60 meter hurdles as he posted a time of 7.72 putting him in first. Just a week later, he posted the same exact time at the NCAA Indoor Championships, putting him in fifth place.
During the outdoor season, he finished in first place in the 110-meter hurdles at the K.T. Woodman Classic with a time of 13.87. The previous outdoor season, he posted a time of 13.59 at the NCAA West Regional, putting him in second to qualify for the NCAA Championship and setting the school record.
Julmis currently ranks 24th in the nation in the 110-meter hurdles with his time of 13.78 at the Ward Haylett Invitational on May 7. The 4x100 relay team comprised of Mantas Silkauskas, Julmis, Jason Coniglio and Martynas Jurgilas ranks ninth in the nation after their time of 39.46 at the same meet, setting a school and facility record.
"That was probably one of the best feelings that I have felt all year especially after the blood clot and having to battle back and not having the outdoor season that I wanted to have," said Julmis. "We have really been struggling with the 4x1 all season with switching people on the team and getting the right order. Once we got the right personnel and got the right order we were never able to get the time that we wanted.
"On, Saturday when I woke up I felt really good so I knew we were going to do really good that day. When I ran my leg I knew I ran it really fast and when I saw the time come up on the board it felt as if I just PR'ed in the hurdles which is normally the race I would like to PR in," Julmis continued. "We broke the school record and ran one of the fastest times in the country, which is pretty hard to do in the 4x1 and it just felt so rewarding."
Within the Big 12, Julmis ranks No. 7 in the 110-meter hurdles and ranks No. 4 in the 4x100 relay with Silkauskas, Coniglio and Jurgilas.
Julmis continues to be one of the top leaders for this Wildcat track team, but does not lead by patting people on the back or giving hugs and words of encouragement. He feels that his leadership is more effective through his actions and performance on the track.
"At the end of the day, having a relationship and having friends is great, but my goal is to get to the next level and if I can motivate my teammates by showing them that if they compete at this level then going to the next level is a breeze and it will come if they work hard enough," said Julmis. "That is how I have always been; I just motivate my teammates getting them to be at the level I am at whether it is at practice or in competition."
Through the ups and the downs and through each injury and set back, Julmis refused to let an injury sideline him. Through a strong work ethic and never die attitude he continues to produce and be one of the top hurdlers in the country.