Senior leadership isn’t lacking in the Whiteland boys track and field program this season.
Not when two of the Warriors, hurdler Joseph Leistner and 800-meter specialist David Ryan, are scheduled to start their military careers less than a week apart this summer.
Leistner must be at Doolittle Hall at the United States Air Force Academy not a minute after 7 a.m. June 28. His arrival in Colorado Springs, Colorado, signals the start of what Leistner hopes is a 20-year military career.
Five days later and 1,800 miles to the east, Ryan will separate himself from family members and friends. Accepted to the United States Military Academy, he will experience the infamous 90-second goodbye the morning of July 2 in West Point, N.Y.
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Both farewells are sure to include reddened eyes and tight embraces.
“That’s going to be really tough for me. But I’ll get through it. It’s part of the process,” Leistner said. “I have a desire to serve this country, and I have a deep desire to be part of a team and protect the world.
“I like the structure of the Air Force and how it forms you into the best version of yourself.”
Leistner and Ryan already display tremendous leadership qualities. Those they meet are greeted with a firm handshake, referred to as sir or ma’am and spoken to in a polite and respectful manner while looked at straight in the eye.
Leistner’s grade-point average is 4.31; Ryan’s is 4.33.
“This has been the best year for leadership that we’ve had, which really shouldn’t be a surprise,” said 11th-year Warriors boys track coach Brandon Bangel. “Joseph and David not only lead by example, but they’re not afraid to be vocal. They have no problem speaking up, which is a great quality to have.
“They’re probably a lot more similar than they would like to admit. Both are very driven and very dedicated.”
In meets, Leistner competes in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles. Ryan takes part in the 800-meter run and 4×800 relay. The two of them also represent half of the Warriors’ 4×400 relay team.
Last season, Leistner took sixth at the Warren Central Sectional in the 300 hurdles in 43.01 seconds. Ryan crossed the finish line fifth in the 800 in 2:05.70.
Regardless of how their final high school track seasons play out in the weeks ahead, nothing can match the euphoria the seniors experienced upon hearing they had been accepted to the academies.
“It was in mid-January when I got a package from West Point in the mail,” Ryan said. “It was my certificate of appointment, which is a real cool thing. It was overwhelming.”
Ryan’s military commitment is four years at West Point, followed by five years of active duty. He could then commit to making a career of the military or stop following active duty and be in the Army reserves for three years.
Leistner, who had planned to attend Purdue and major in engineering if he was not accepted at Air Force, received word in March that his dreams were coming true.
Both credit family, friends and Whiteland Community High School for helping them achieve.
“There’s no one thing that prepares you. You can’t just be the fastest, strongest or smartest guy,” Ryan said. “Everything my teachers and coaches have done has prepared me for this next step. You can honestly tell that they care.”
Leistner echoes that sentiment, knowing the visions of being a pilot that he started having as a fifth-grader would not be possible without a strong support system.
“It goes back a really long way. I had heard about the opportunities that come from being in the Air Force,” he said. “I’ll be getting a great education and defending our country. Once I got to high school, everything was being geared to being in the Air Force.”