Southern California’s Elias Gerald has emerged as one of the top college high jumpers in the United States after winning the 2023 Pac-12 title and All-American honors. Institute classes and the missionaries helped the young Latter-day Saint overcome a “rough patch” early in his freshman season. (Instagram photos courtesy of Elias Gerald)
All-American/Pac-12 high jump champ Elias Gerald elevated by gospel beliefs, institute
Latter-day Saint teen relies upon his coaches, teammates, the missionaries and his gospel testimony to navigate the obstacles of big-time D1 athletics.
By Jason Swensen
28 Jun 2023
If you simply skim through his track meet results, you might guess Elias Gerald’s freshman season as a D1 collegiate high jumper at Southern Cal was an unmitigated success.
After all, the Latter-day Saint teenager showcased his skills in headline-grabbing fashion — claiming a Pac-12 title, a first place finish in NCAA West Regionals and All-American honors at the recent 2023 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
But the full story of Gerald’s past year runs far deeper.
Yes, he experienced remarkable highs as a Trojan freshman. He is, after all, a conference champ. And he’s established himself as one of the top college high jumpers in America.
But he has also known struggles and doubts.
Now, looking back at his rookie campaign at USC, Gerald said he is grateful that he never battled his challenges alone, despite being away from his family and hometown friends. His trust in the Lord — coupled with the support of his coaches, teammates and several full-time missionaries — kept the talented athlete from ever dipping too low.
“Looking back on this season, I'm just just thankful for everything that happened,” Gerald told Church Ball Magazine. “There were obstacles that I had to go through. There were changes and adjustments that I had to make in a new environment.
“But overall, I just feel really blessed and satisfied.”
After arriving last fall on the USC campus as one of the country’s most heralded high school jumpers, the Saratoga Springs, Utah, native expected immediate success. He soon learned that expectations are not always certainties.
For starters, Gerald’s training was interrupted after undergoing neck surgery shortly before the 2023 indoor season. When he was finally cleared to compete he wasn’t hitting his usual jump marks.
“I felt utter confusion,” he said. “I was baffled as to why I wasn’t able to compete at the levels that I had been competing at just a few months prior during my senior year of high school.
“It really rattled me.”
Doubts soon followed.
“I started asking myself: ‘What am I doing wrong? Am I not as good as I thought I was? Am I not working hard enough?’”
Gerald remembers emerging from that self-described “rough patch” through the support of “good friends and good mentors” such as his jumping teammate Dallas Wise and his USC track coaches, Quincy Watts and Tyree Price.
“Plus, there were the missionaries working at the USC branch,” he said. “The missionaries became my ‘go-to people’ whenever I needed to talk to somebody or get something off my chest or just hang out.”
The missionaries also supported Gerald as he made the cultural adjustment of moving away from Utah County where the Church is the predominant faith. The young elders also provided their athletic friend with a priesthood blessing prior to his surgery.
“That blessing played a big part in me getting through that rough patch,” he said. “I learned the true and real meaning behind ‘holding on to the iron rod’.”
Gerald found additional strength by attending Thursday institute classes whenever his competition schedule allowed.
“Institute,” he said, “was the highlight of my week.”
Missionaries Elder Doug and Sister Connie Foster developed an immediate fondness for Gerald, who could be counted upon to contribute thoughtful and faith-driven comments during their institute class near the USC campus.
“Elias is just a marvelous, personable guy,” said Elder Foster.
Sister Foster added that Gerald always brings a positive energy to their institute gatherings. “I think Elias did find institute to be like a sanctuary…. He has deep thoughts about his expectations for his life and what he wants to be.”
The All-American/Pac-12 high jump champ draws direct connections between his 2023 athletic performances and his spiritual development.
“Obtaining those accolades was phenomenal,” he said. “But I believe they were direct results of me changing, adapting and growing spiritually….I let the Lord into my life and put it all into His hands.”
Besides participating in institute and Church activities, Gerald fortified his testimony with personal scripture study and by listening to general conference talks.
“The impact those things had was phenomenal. A switch flipped and I started improving with each meet. I won my first collegiate meet during the 2023 outdoor season — and then I won the next five straight.”
On May 13, Gerald claimed the Pac-12 men’s high jump title with a clearance of 6-11.50. Days later, he placed first in the NCAA West Regionals with a jump of 7-1.50. His All-American performance in the 2023 NCAA Outdoor Finals placed an unforgettable bow on his freshman season.
Jumping to national prominence
Gerald’s track career began inauspiciously in grade school when his neighbors — who owned the local Westlake Track Club — reached out to Jarrah and Danor Gerald and encouraged the couple to sign-up their children for track.
“My parents just thought, ‘Sure, why not? — it will give the kids something to do during the summer months',” remembered Elias Gerald.
Young Elias had always been an athletic kid. He enjoyed playing basketball and was on his way to becoming a black belt Tae Kwon Do competitor. As a youngster, he initially ran sprinting events and showed immediate promise in the long jump.
Gerald did not start high jumping until his freshman year of high school. He thought the event looked fun. So he asked his middle school coach if he could give the high jump a try during one of his track meets. Gerald had no clue what he was doing. He knew nothing about high jumping technique… and he was wearing basketball sneakers.
“But I ended up winning the high jump at that meet,” he said, laughing.
At Utah’s Westlake High School, Gerald received high level coaching — and he studied high jump videos on YouTube. He continued to jump higher and higher. Soon he was ascending the national high school ranks.
He was named the 2022 Gatorade Utah Boy’s Track & Field Player of the Year after winning Utah state titles in the high jump and long jump during his junior and senior years. He also placed second in the state in the 110-meter hurdles.
Gerald’s outdoor high jump best of 7-0.25 is a Utah 6A state record. Meanwhile, his 7-2 indoor jump was ranked #1 for high school athletes across the nation last year.
In his first season of collegiate competition, Latter-day Saint Elias Gerald won the Pac-12 high jump championship. The All-American hopes to become an Olympian and a television sports broadcaster. (Instagram photo)
No surprise, Gerald’s jumping credentials offered him his choice of several top collegiate track programs. After much prayer and discussion with his parents, he ultimately opted to compete for the Trojans because of his relationship with the USC coaches and their mutual belief in each other.
“USC is the perfect fit for me,” he said. “I could not have asked for a better school.”
Besides connecting with the Latter-day Saint community on the USC campus, Gerald is open about his religious beliefs to his growing number of fans. His Instagram page includes a link to the Church’s site.
For now, he plans to return to USC for his sophomore season and then likely serve a full-time mission.
Regardless of what future paths await — athletically and personally — Gerald knows his faith will help him discover joy and success. His testimony of Christ, he added, “is a great motivator.”
Gerald is focusing on claiming a national high jump title for USC. After college, he would like to represent Team USA, compete in the Olympics and become a sports broadcaster.
Given his athletic resume and natural affability, he would be a natural in front of the camera.