WESTFIELD, NJ — Jake Saltzer joined the Westfield track team his freshman year to stay in shape for football. Now one of the fastest 400m runners in WHS history, the junior considers the sport a “lifestyle.”

“Track has done a great deal for me,” this week’s Ron Bansky and Associates Allstate Westfield Athlete of the Week explained. “It is a sport that constantly makes you think about quitting, because things can get tough and uncomfortable. It’s taught me what hard work means. I’d never thought I would be in the place I am right now.”

As the fastest 400m runner on the team, Saltzer has played a critical part in the success of the Blue Devil's distance medley relay (DMR). On Friday, Saltzer ran a seasonal best of 50.4 in the 400m leg of the DMR at the New Balance Nationals Indoor meet, where the relay ran a 10:30.58. It was the first time since 2013 Westfield had qualified for indoor nationals, and they achieved a 22nd place finish.

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“I was in shock to be at nationals,” Saltzer said. “I was racing against some of the best teams in the country. It was a great experience to be there and felt even better to know that [the team] had earned out spot there at the race.”

Head coach Christopher Tafelski acknowledged that Saltzer’s progression wasn’t without its setbacks, but the runner’s determination has helped him become a key part of the team.

“As a freshman he struggled with injuries,” Tafelski said. “But like a lot of our sophomores over the years, he really showed last year that he could rise up to be competitive at the county and state levels. When kids catch fire and really start building momentum in competition, it feeds the motivation to do the really hard work in training to keep that ball rolling. His consistency in competition has made him such a reliable asset for our team.”

Tafelski also credited Saltzer with spreading his positive work ethic and success throughout the track team.

“Jake’s most significant impact is the one he’s had on his teammates,” the coach said. “That’s what we expect from all of our top performers and upperclassmen — that they make their teammates better, not just themselves.”

Saltzer credited much of his success in the sport to his teammates, who have helped shape him to the athlete he is today.

“People take for granted that track really is a team sport,” Saltzer explained. “A lot of people think it’s just you on the track, but it’s a race against yourself. Being with the boys really helps you improve and helps you get where you want to be.”

In fact, Saltzer finds that it is not his success in the sport which he enjoys most, but the genuine camaraderie shared between him and his teammates that makes him look forward to practice every day.

“The thing I enjoy the most is being able to practice with my team,” he said. “My teammates are the biggest reason I've come to love to sport so much. Those are the guys that push you to new limits every day. Without my teammates, I wouldn't be able to have the success I have today.”

Daniel Han is a student at Westfield High School participating in a journalism program with TAPinto Westfield.

The Allstate Westfield Athlete of the Week is sponsored by Ron Bansky & Associates Allstate Agency. Located 502 East Broad St., the agency has been protecting local families and business owners for over 15 years. Call them at 908-301-0711 for a new auto, home or life insurance quote this week and if you mention the Allstate WHS Athlete of the Week they will make a $25 contribution to the Westfield Boosters Association! To learn more, visit ronbansky.com.