Elijah Mason kept moving.
He had to.
In 2019, UW’s 6-foot-2, 330-pound discus Adonis definitively ended a 43-year drought, winning Washington’s first Pac-12 discus title since 1976. Less than a month later, he finished seventh at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Austin, Texas, earning first-team All-America honors along the way.
In the aftermath, the redshirt freshman from Casa Grande, Arizona, arrived at a ruling:
It wasn’t enough.
“Right after nationals in 2019, my redshirt freshman year, my coaches just basically sat me down and were like, ‘Wow, you could be pretty good if you lost about 30 pounds.’ So we got straight to work,” Mason said Monday. “The very next day after we landed I was back in the weight room, and I didn’t touch weights for like six weeks. It was strict cardio — ski erg (cardio machine), versa climber, the stair step thing, jump rope. It was so much cardio, trying to get some of this weight off.”
Mason systematically shed 20 pounds, then rebuilt himself with mounds of muscle. Entering the 2019-20 season, he said he was “super excited to throw. I was moving faster than ever. I was jumping higher than ever. I started dunking for the first time. I was 6-2, 300 pounds, and dunking. I was super confident with how my training was going, my opportunity to throw the discus and just how everything was coming together.”
It came together, then fell apart.
On March 14, 2020, the Pac-12 canceled all athletic championships through the end of the academic year, as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sports essentially stopped.
But Mason kept moving.
“March 14 came around, and I found myself walking into Safeway,” he said. “I was like, ‘Hey, I can start working today. I never had a job, and I don’t know how this works, but I can start working today. You guys need a janitor or something like that? This stuff looks dirty. I can clean.’ The same day, actually, they took me upstairs, and I had a little interview, and I started working two days later — just doing my best to keep moving.”
And so, from mid-March until he returned to Arizona at the end of June, the Pac-12’s reigning men’s discus champion voluntarily stocked shelves and cleaned spills at the Safeway on Northeast 45th Street in the University District. He did “basically whatever they didn’t want to do,” he said. “Technically, I was a courtesy clerk. I pushed the carts. I cleaned the carts. I cleaned the bathrooms. I cleaned the store. So it was really more like janitor work. If there were spills, I was cleaning that. I was bagging at the front.”
Of course, a pandemic isn’t the only obstacle Mason has moved through. He was forced to stop throwing shot put in his sophomore year of high school, when an accident left him with damage to the ulnar nerve in his right hand, extending all the way up the arm. Shortly after, the once-dominant defensive tackle made the difficult decision to pursue track and field over his first love:
“I still can’t go to football games today,” he said. “I can watch football as much as I want on TV, but I can’t be in the presence of other people playing football unless it’s with my brothers or doing routes or something like that, messing around. I can’t even go watch football games anymore, because I get antsy and I’m like, ‘They’re not better than me.’
“It’s the usual things you like to tell yourself, knowing that they probably are much better. But it was definitely a hard decision. I just had to deal with it, basically.”
He’s dealt with injuries, obstacles and spills in Aisle 7. But though the pandemic swallowed the Pac-12’s outdoor season, it also provided Mason an opportunity to rest his nagging knees — which have sustained three partial MCL tears in recent years.
“That was definitely the hardest athletic year of my life,” he said of the inability to compete. “But I don’t have to get my ankles taped before every practice anymore. I don’t have to wear patches on my knees. I can squat. I can do all these other things that I don’t think I’d be able to do without that time off. So it goes both ways.”
And now, Mason is moving toward a familiar goal. Last month, with a throw of 189 feet, 2 inches, he became the first Husky to win consecutive Pac-12 discus titles. He followed that up with a second-place finish (196-10) at the NCAA West Preliminaries, qualifying for the national outdoor championships this week in Eugene, Oregon.
His season-best throw of 199-0 ranks fifth nationally (and first among courtesy clerks).
There are obstacles, always. Friday’s forecast calls for rain, which may make it harder for Mason to grip the discus, as well as the ground. He’s also working through a nagging groin injury that has somewhat impeded his preparation.
But the excuses are irrelevant. Mason keeps moving.
“That’s all (the mindset) is for me,” he said. “Just stay calm, do what I know I can do, warm up really well, wear like 10 layers … and give it my best shot.”