By Adam Sullivan
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Kansas senior Josh Munsch has been competitive his entire life. His passion and drive have led him to be one of the top runners on the University of Kansas track & field squad this season. Munsch, a Hays, Kansas native grew up a Jayhawk fan and had dreams of playing collegiate basketball or football. His competitiveness, athletic ability and drive however, had other plans for him.
“In fourth grade we were doing the presidential fitness testing and it came to the mile portion of it,” Munsch said, cracking a smile. “I remember running it and wanting to beat everyone else. I ended up getting the fourth grade record in 6:27, or something close to that. I was so stoked. From then on I continued to play other sports and didn’t really focus on running until eighth grade when I realized it might be something I could be good at. I decided to run cross country my freshman year (of high school) and had some success with it, then I went out for track and kept growing and improving so I stuck with it.”
Eventually Munsch realized running could be a key going to college, and he set his sights on the Division l level. Munsch talked to Kansas distance coach Michael Whittlesey, who brought Munsch to Lawrence for his first visit. After walking the campus and seeing the facilities, it was clear that Lawrence would become home.
Munsch quickly became a key member for the Jayhawks’ cross country and track & field teams. As a sophomore he qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships where he finished 22nd in the 1,500 meters, gaining an All-American Honorable Mention accolade. In his junior campaign, Munsch finished third in the mile race with a time of 4:03.09 at the Big 12 Conference Indoor Championships. As Munsch transitioned from a freshman to a junior, he noticed the difference in his racing level which he credited to one thing.
“Honestly, I think what it comes down to is just being more experienced,” stated Munsch. “Also confidence plays a big role, not only in my ability, but knowing what it takes to continue to improve. Once you get that experience and realize the competition level that Division l running is at, it sets a new standard for you. In high school it’s a little easier to just dominate in your area; not that you don’t have to work for it, but it’s a little more based on talent. In college it’s based on hard work because everyone is talented.”
His momentum on the track was in full swing when his senior season of cross country rolled around. In the fall of 2013, Munsch earned All-Big 12 honors and was Kansas’ top finisher at the Big 12 Championships, finishing in 13th place. With a big senior year on the track expected from him, Munsch endured a major setback which nearly ended his track career.
“I had a stress fracture in my tibia which didn’t seem to heal,” said Munsch. “It took probably six to seven months for me to get back to training again. It was a very frustrating time because I was used to training at such a high level. Dropping it all because you want to heal your body and that bone because running is such a high impact on your legs it was hard to not be able to train. From there I questioned if I was going to come back or not because I have other goals in life. I realized once I started running again that I was happier and it wasn’t something I could just give up. I wanted to finish it and see it through.”
While rehabbing his injury, the downtime allowed Munsch to really settle in on the academic side of college. A strategic design major who has been named Academic All-Big 12 First Team twice in his career, noticed that his work could be better. His competitiveness kicked in again, and the drive that brought him into sports nearly took him out.
“One of the reasons why I was considering not running again was my competitiveness,” Munsch said. “Being an athlete is so time intensive and design is the same way. The thing with trying to be creative is, it doesn’t always just happen. When you’re going to practice and training, it’s hard to pick back up in class. Looking at other people’s work and knowing I wasn’t putting the same amount of time into my work, not that my work was bad, but I knew it could be better. It was frustrating because I want to have the best work in my class and that stems from running. In order to be successful in any sport you have to have that passion and the drive to be first.”
His hard work in the classroom paid off as Munsch landed an internship with a design company in Kansas City. He’s able to use the same strategic outlooks from running into designing projects around the Kansas City metro area. One of the projects Munsch has played a part in is Boulevardia, a large craft brewery festival held each year in Kansas City.
The internship allowed Munsch to get a foot in the door of the designing field, which is extremely large. Though the field is broad, Munsch thinks he’s figured out his calling.
“I really love all aspects of design because it’s such a large field,” Munsch stated with a smile. “I feel drawn toward the innovation, or strategic, side. I’m looking into the technology companies because they’re very user-based, which is designing for a need and using design to help solve a problem.”
His knack for solving problems helped the track standout return from an injury in better shape and form than before. This season in the indoor portion of the track schedule, Munsch landed a fourth-place finish at the Big 12 Championships competing in the mile race. The experienced senior carried over his success into the outdoor season as he’s already claimed one first-place finish in the 1,500-meters at the Kansas Relays in April.
Munsch knows it will take a lot of work to have the same success in the professional world as he has on the track, but intensive work and pressure is something the senior is used to.
“I think running in itself is a great metaphor for a lot of aspects in life,” said Munsch. “The hard work and perseverance it takes translates into everything else.”