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Future Oregon Ducks distance runner William Heslam makes Roosevelt Roughriders history at 6A track state meet

“We’ve done a really good job the last couple of years of developing that talent. I think for years to come, Roosevelt will be a team to look out for.”

By René Ferrán 

EUGENE — Roosevelt senior William Heslam was a late bloomer in the distance running world. 

As a sophomore during the COVID season, his times were nothing special, and he finished seventh in the 800 meters and a distant 11th in the 1,500 at the PIL district meet.

His coming-out party came last spring, when he won the PIL district title in the 800 and nearly chased down Caleb Lakeman in the 1,500 at the 6A state meet, surging from 10th place to second in the final lap.

His final season started with a bang — a runner-up finish in the mile at Nike Indoor Nationals in early March — and it kept going. He won the mile at Arcadia and the 800 at the Oregon Relays, becoming the fourth runner in state history to break 1:50 in chasing down Wilsonville’s Carter Cutting.

Heslam closed the season at his future home, returning to Hayward Field and earning two gold medals, winning the 1,500 in a personal-best and meet-record 3:49.36 (No. 13 on the all-time state list) and the 800 in 1:53.03.

“After last year, I wanted to go for the double, and as the season went on, I really realized that it was a possibility,” said Heslam, who signed with the Ducks in November.

William Heslam photo Rene Ferran

Heslam drew inspiration from watching the 5A race prior to his, when Cutting and Crater’s Tyrone Gorze dueled to the finish, with both running times that placed them in the top 10 on the state’s all-time list.

After a strong first lap, the pace slowed, and Heslam maneuvered to stay out of trouble in the middle of a large pack.

“Then, I realized with a lap to go, we’re not going too fast, and I’ve got to take off now because I don’t want to get boxed in late,” he said. “Then, with 200 to go, I just kept increasing.”

That 54-second final lap to hold off Central Catholic’s Wesley Shipsey took a toll on Heslam that he felt as the 800 final rounded the curve on the second lap.

“I started to feel it at 500 — my legs were a little dead from the 1,500,” Heslam said.

“There was a little push from whoever was leading, and when we hit the 200, I was like, ‘I’ve got to put the burners on. I’ve got to go right now. Just black out and go.’”

Perhaps to come full circle, Heslam’s final victory in a Roosevelt singlet came by holding off Lakeman’s younger brother, Aaron, who made a late surge in the 800 to finish second.

“Today was about going for the win,” Heslam said. “I’m doing the Portland Track Festival, and I’ll go for a fast time there.”

Heslam’s victories ended a 61-year title drought for the Roughriders and marked the first time since Clarence Bell won the 880-yard dash in 1945 that a Roosevelt distance runner wore gold.

Heslam believes it won’t take another 61 years for Roosevelt to stand atop the podium again.

“I feel like we have such a good culture,” he said. “We have a ton of talent that comes to Roosevelt, and we’ve done a really good job the last couple of years of developing that talent. I think for years to come, Roosevelt will be a team to look out for.”