Perkins graduate Cory Leslie returned from injury in dramatic style at the U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
Despite being unable to train outside of a pool or stationary bike for two months during the winter, the 24-year-old captured fourth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the competition — hosted by Sacramento State University from June 26-29 — with a time of 8 minutes, 26.3 seconds.
Leslie, who is sponsored by Nike, was in contention for a first-place finish for 2,800 meters of the race.
American record-holder and Olympian Evan Jager of Nike collected the victory with a time of 8:18.83, followed by Dan Huling of New Balance with a finish of 8:19.73 and Olympian Don Cabral of Nike in 8:20.04.
“I’ve been very fortunate throughout my career and this was the first time I’ve had to miss any running because of injury,” Leslie said. “I was very fortunate to have some great doctors and trainers that were doing everything they could to get me back healthy and competing as quickly as possible.”
Leslie did not compete during the indoor track and field season after suffering a stress fracture in his tibia — a large bone located between the knee and ankle — during the winter.
After standout high school and collegiate careers, Leslie burst into the professional scene in 2013 among the nation’s elite in the steeplechase.
At one point during the summer of 2013, he was listed with the No. 1 performance in the event among Americans with a personal-record time of 8:20.08.
“When it comes to keeping my edge or trying to find ways to maximize training or times, I have to give all the credit to my coach, Robert Gary,” Leslie said. “He is the mastermind behind my training that has allowed me to continue to improve year after year.”
Leslie began training for Gary — a U.S. Olympian in the steeplechase in 1996 and 2004 — in the fall of 2008 after accepting full athletic scholarship to compete in track and field and cross country for Ohio State University.
For the Buckeyes, Leslie set five school records, clinched All-Big Ten Conference selection four times and garnered All-American first team accolades twice.
He was a two-time Academic all-conference award winner en route to obtaining a bachelor’s degree in education.
After 16 years as a coach for the Buckeyes, Gary accepted a position to coach the NCAA Division I program at Furman University, located in Greenville, S.C.
In 2013, Leslie relocated along with Gary to train professionally and contribute as an assistant coach for the track and field and cross country programs for the Paladins.
“He's been able to PR in the steeple by 10 to 15 seconds each year,” Gary said. “It’s probably my fault he got injured and he handled everything. He was among the leaders in high school, carried it over to college and now he’s one of the best steeplechasers in the world at 24 years old. There’s not much ceiling over his head.”
While competing for Perkins High School in track and field and cross country from 2004-08, Leslie collected All-Ohio recognition 10 times, won five state titles in his respective events and remains the Division II state record holder in the 800-meter run with a time of 1:50.77.
At the 2008 Division II state track and field championships, he helped the Pirates clinch their second state title in the sport and first since 1984.
“Never doubt Cory Leslie,” Perkins High School coach Shane Burrows said. “Nothing surprises me when it comes to Cory. His goal is to make it to the Olympics and he is on his way to achieving his goal.”
His father, Paul Leslie was his coach in high school.
“Without a doubt my parents have played the biggest role in my career,” Cory Leslie said. “They sent me to all the camps I wanted to go to, took me to national meets and my dad guided me to an incredible high school career.
“I certainly wouldn’t be enjoying the success I am today without their support.”
Gary also stated the impact of how well Cory Leslie was trained prior to his commitment to Ohio State University.
“In six years, Cory has continued to grow, has great speed and his dad did a great job of keeping his mileage low, which helped his potential,” Gary said.
Paul Leslie served as the cross country coach and distance coach in track and field at PHS from 1999-2008, leading the Pirates to trips to the Division II state championships in 2003 and 2006.
“It never entered my mind that (Cory) could get as far as he is,” Paul Leslie said. “You could say coaching played a role in it, but it is the discipline that he instilled in himself to keep going like this.
“You can’t coach that discipline, to do the things 24 hours per day to race against these guys,” he added. “It’s more to say, a dream come true, to know he is having this success in something that I even love. I love to run. He’s doing it. It’s unbelievable.”