UCLA distance runner George Gleason learned from a young age to never give up, and his persistent spirit leads him to success every day.
A 6-foot-2 sophomore, Gleason grew up in Huntington Beach under Patrick and Gina Gleason with two younger brothers, Henry and Will. Gleason’s favorite movie is “The Dark Knight,” and he also enjoys the film “American Beauty.”
His Dad rowed crew at the University of Washington and has always been a huge role model for George.
“My dad would always tell us stories about rowing at Washington, and winning a national title while he was there,” George said. Inspired by his father’s championship pedigree, George instantly fell in love with sports.
He took up surfing and gained a competitive attitude, while also learning about patience.
He said, “Surfing defined my personality growing up and as I got older it taught me to be patient, which helped me mature at a young age.
“I learned that you can’t rush everything in life, certain things just don’t come right to you.”
Living down the street from beaches, Gleason surfed every day. In middle school, he was involved with a local surf team, which would end up taking him beyond just waves.
He said, “My surf team coach had a talent agent come look at our team to see if any of us would be interested in modeling, and somehow they picked me.
“I ended up being in a Hang-10 add and on some billboards.”
Suddenly, Gleason found himself as a teenage surfer with a modeling career in hand. He was able to develop some confidence through his early fame and success, but wanted more time to just enjoy being a kid in Huntington.
“You put yourself in a spot where your exposed, and have to pose for the camera.” He added, “Modeling is very time-consuming and you really have to be killing it to have a good time.”
After appearing in magazines and on billboards for Hang Ten, Gleason started to shift his desires away from surfing and towards running. At first he ran just for fun and still prioritized surfing, but eventually decided that track would be his main focus.
“What really got me into it was just running from my house in Huntington on different trails, every day it seemed like I would go a little bit further,” he said.
Once high school hit, Gleason chose to fully commit to becoming a good runner.
He began training for hours and hours a week, working to become a consistent track athlete for Huntington High.
He said, “At first, that was really tough because when I would run just for fun in middle school, I wasn’t actually training.
“I actually almost stopped enjoying to run for a while, but then kind of just took it upon myself to start pushing and run more.”
Gleason’s hard work paid dividends through his first years of high school, becoming one of Southern California’s best up and coming runners by his third year.
However as a junior, he struggled through cross country season. Perhaps the most important year of athletics for most high school students, Gleason needed a quick turn around during track season in order to capture college attention.
“After that cross season, I ended up getting injured while training for track and I was devastated,” he said.
Due to a freak training injury, Gleason’s hopes of becoming a college athlete were doubtful. Refusing to give in, he was determined to bounce back and work his way back onto the track. After weeks of rehabilitation, he made his way back into the fold for the end of his junior track season.
“I just hung tough, had a bunch of great people surrounding me, and was able to overcome that,” he said.
Gleason had to battle through uncertainty both mentally and physically, and competed with a gigantic chip on his shoulder.
“I ended up having a very special end to my junior year, where I came back towards the end of the season and started winning races,” he said.
Gleason defeated the odds and made the state meet, giving him the opportunity to snatch the attention of college coaches.
Gleason’s magnificent run continued to the CIF Finals, where he knew what was at stake.
“At the Finals, I went from running a 4:18 in the 1600 to running 4:11, which was a time I knew would get me noticed by college coaches,” he said.
Gleason carried over all of his success to his senior year at Huntington High, a season in which he qualified for state in both track and cross country. At the CIF State Track and Field championships, he placed third in the 1600m with a time of 4:09.
Gleason was recognized as an All-CIF state selection and won Huntington High’s 2015 athlete of the year.
“When you can overcome something so tragic as the injury I had and achieve your dreams, it feels incredible,” he said.
Gleason generated interest from several schools, but decided to continue his track and distance career at UCLA.
He said, “Growing up, I always admired UCLA so much because it’s a great athletic school in California, which you can’t beat.
“I just knew going to UCLA, I’d be around great guys who could push me to become a better runner.”
In his first year on the track for UCLA, Gleason competed in six meets and ran a 1500m best of 3:49 at the Mt. SAC Relays. He was also named a Pac-12 All-Academic honorable mention for the cross country team, adapting well to the rigorous transition of high school to college athletics.
“Being an athlete at UCLA is challenging because you go from being in high school, where you’re one of the better athletes, to college where everybody’s insanely good,” he said.
Racing for the Bruins demands every ounce of focus and determination from Gleason, and he’s been up to the challenge.
“It’s a whole new mentality towards competing, but in the end it’s what makes you run faster,” he said.
In his second season for the Bruins, Gleason’s improvement and ability has elevated him to regional and Pac-12 contention, with much at stake heading into the USC/UCLA dual meet at Loker Stadium. On April 30, the day of the meet, Gleason started the morning off with a light 10 to 15-minute jog.
After relaxing his mind in preparation for the race, Gleason ate a turkey sandwich, six hours before. Two hours until the race, he fueled off a bagel with honey, and headed across town to USC.
“I need to sit on the pace and when things get tough, just push through the pain,” he said prior to competing.
Participating in the 1500m, Gleason needed an excellent time for a chance to race in the Pac-12 meet and qualify for Regionals.
Just the performance Gleason needed vaults him to a 3:45 first place finish, putting him in a solid position going forward. His victory increased the Bruins lead over USC to 87-62, and the UCLA men went on to win the dual meet, 88-75, good for their second consecutive victory over the Trojans.
“Going against SC, knowing the intensity of our cross-town rivalry, makes you want to push that much harder and reach that next level of competition,” he said.
Gleason also competed in the 5k and didn’t finish, a result of his emphasis on the 1500m race.
“After the 1500 I was pretty destroyed from going so hard, so that 5k was challenging,” he said.
He added, “Right after I won, everything just poured out, which often comes in pain from the emotional and physical fatigue of winning a race like that.”
Gleason will need his 1500m time to qualify in the top 48 of the West Region, which would give him an opportunity to compete in Regionals. Nearly through two full seasons at UCLA, Gleason is extremely content.
“It’s an amazing place and we have an amazing team, our coach is incredible,” he said.
During the summer, Gleason plans to shred some waves and continue training his body and mind.
He said, “I’ll meet up with high school friends, go for some runs and surf, I’m also thinking about going to the mountains to get some altitude training.
“I need to work on the mental aspects of being a college athlete, focus on becoming my best self so I can do everything training, sleep, and diet wise to make sure I’m ready to be great.”