Robbinsville High School’s Garrett Horowitz (center, in white) clears a hurdle during the 400-meter intermediate hurdles at the state Meet of Champions June 9, 2018 at Northern Burlington High School. (Photo by Suzette J. Lucas.)

Garrett Horowitz recalls being let down easy as a Pond Road sixth-grader.

“I wanted to do hurdles in middle school but they wouldn’t let me,” the Robbinsville High rising senior said. “My coaches didn’t want to tell me I was bad at it. They said I was too valuable as a 400 runner, but I knew that was their way of telling me I was bad at hurdles.”

Was he?

“I guess my form was really bad and I just jumped over the hurdle,” Horowitz said with a laugh. “I was like, ‘I guess you’re right.’”

Funny how things change.

Five years later, Horowitz emerged as the ninth best 400 intermediate hurdler in the state, missing a medal by just one spot in the NJSIAA Meet of Champions after breaking the school record for the third time with a mark of 54.99.

“His immediate comment was, ‘I wanted to break 55 and I did, but I’m really upset I didn’t get eighth place and a medal,’” Ravens coach Anthony Dentino noted. “That’s indicative of the fact that he’s already good and he’s looking to better himself for next year and he’ll be hungry for next year. That’s exactly what we want. To hear that was music to my ears as a coach.”

Horowitz’s MOC showing capped an outstanding spring season, in which he took fourth in the 400 hurdles at the Group II state meet (55.43) after finishing fifth in Central Jersey Group II (58.17) and fourth in the Mercer County meet (58.72). He also took fifth in the 110 hurdles at counties and sectionals, setting the school record in the latter in 15.02. Still, he prefers the longer hurdle race.

“Everyone says they hate the 400 hurdles, because it’s the worst event and the most tiring event,” Horowitz said. “I don’t want to say it’s the easiest event, but I feel it’s easiest for me. I’m not all stiff, I’m loose when I’m going over. It feels like I’m gliding, not sprinting heavily.”

‘Garrett is a perfectionist when it comes to hurdling.’

After his middle school disappointment, Horowitz was made a hurdler without even realizing it by then-Ravens coach Jon Hutchinson.

“He actually tricked me into doing hurdles,” Horowitz said. “He had me doing hurdle drills in the winter, but I never ran hurdles in the meet so I was very confused. At the time I didn’t know what the 400 hurdles were (only 55 hurdles are run in the winter). He said, ‘Oh, I have a surprise for you in the spring.’ He put me in the 400 hurdles in our little intrasquad meet, that’s when I was like, ‘Oh well, this isn’t really bad.’”

And a hurdler was born. Horowitz grew out of the awkwardness that held him back at Pond Road, and also began to learn technique from RHS hurdles coach Kristina Fisher. It was something he took serious.

“Garrett is a perfectionist when it comes to hurdling,” Fisher said. “He likes to make sure he is precise with his form, which worked in his favor as he was able to drop his time down with every race he ran this year.”

The rise to becoming one of the state’s top hurdlers was more than just overcoming middle school awkwardness for Horowitz, whose father, Ed, was a standout baseball player for Hightstown High and Rider University. This spring was actually his first high school season of good health, as Horowitz was hindered by a heart issue beginning in his freshman year.

While running cross country, Horowitz did not feel quite right, as if it were a strain to run. He was told he was fine after getting it checked, but, “I kept running, and it got harder and harder.”

Horowitz muddled through winter and spring track seasons, but things got worse during his sophomore cross country campaign and he visited a cardiologist. Horowitz was diagnosed with a tachycardia, a common type of heart rhythm in which the heart beats faster than normal while resting.

“Basically after my run, my heart would race like I was still running a full out sprint for over 30 minutes,” he said.

Garrett Horowitz finished the spring as the 9th best hurdler in the state. (Photo by Suzette J. Lucas.)

Horowitz was put on medication that winter while still performing in winter and spring track. Despite his issues, he won the 400 hurdles in the Mercer County Freshman-Sophomore meet as a freshman, broke the school 400 hurdle record for the first time as a sophomore with a 56.04 (the previous was 58.3) and helped the 4×400 relay team reach the Meet of Champions and win its heat at the Penn Relays.

Distance running concerned him, however, and Horowitz skipped cross country last fall. Then came his low point in high school this past winter.

“The medicine slowed my heart rate down so I couldn’t really pick up my speed and go that fast in the winter,” he said. “That was the hard part. But without the medicine I probably wouldn’t have been able to run.”

And while he refused to complain, Horowitz admits it was not a fun indoor season.

“It definitely was not comfortable,” he said. “I tried not to show how uncomfortable it was, but I guess everyone saw. My coaches were kind of scared to put me in some events and over-run me. I told them I was able to do whatever they put me in.”

He ran the 55 hurdles and 4×400 but did not have overwhelming success.

Change was coming, however.

Just prior to the Meet of Champions, Horowitz underwent an ablation—a catheter is run into his heart from the vein of the leg to burn the section of heart that was short circuiting. Shortly thereafter, he was taken completely off his medicine and deemed a healthy specimen.

He began the spring like a new man.

“I could see a big improvement in my 110 hurdle times in March but I wasn’t really confident with my 400 hurdles until the end of March or April,” Horowitz said. “But it just felt like all the weight on my chest was off, and I could run as fast as I want for as long as I want. It just felt so great to have that ability to be able to run healthy and being able to finish a race without hyperventilating and almost passing out. I could finish a race and not want to throw up.”

He also continued to hone his form.

“This season we really worked on his steps between the hurdles,” Fisher said. “He is trying to do the same amount of steps and he is very close to accomplishing that goal. I look forward to what next season has in store for him.”

Dentino felt this year’s highlight came at the state meet, when he shaved a half-second off his PR.

“He had never broken 56 seconds, that was sort of that big barrier for him,” the coach said. “It was a little bit of a mental block, and it was like “Ok, we know he can do it, it’s just a matter of how come this didn’t come together yet?’ He just didn’t get the right day for it. Finally, he got the right day, he just attacked the race and ran an absolutely beautiful race and got himself to Meet of Champs.”

He ran even faster in the MOC and continued to prove that hurdles are his specialty and he doesn’t mind sharing his knowledge.

“Garrett is really athletic and he’s one of those kids who found his niche early on his career, which is great,” Dentino said. “He understands how to hurdle, he’s very helpful to our younger athletes; trying to teach them how to work the proper steps and teach them the proper hurdle form. He’s almost like another coach out there.”

In looking back on his spring, Horowitz is rightfully proud.

“I was really happy, I didn’t think it would turn out this well,” he said. “I didn’t have a really good winter but when I got the ablation done it just grew my confidence from there and it turned out to be a good season.”

The kind of season he would never have expected back in sixth grade.