Walking up to the starting line about to begin a race, Burroughs High track and field and cross-country athlete Jagdeep Chahal could feel the stares and herd the whispers.
And it was all directed toward him.
Chahal is of the Sikh religion and as a devotion to his faith he wears a turban, or Dastar, which symbolizes spirituality, honor, respect, responsibility, piety, moral values, friendship and relationships.
Though it is part of his religion, wearing the turban makes Chahal stand out.
“I remember it was my sophomore year and my first year on varsity and when I stepped on the line for the first time, I started getting these looks from people and I knew why they were staring at me,” said Chahal, who recently finished his senior year with the Indians. “It really made me uncomfortable. For awhile, it really got to me.
“People are curious and, if they came up to me and asked me about it, I was open to talk about it and tell them my religion and just try and give them some information.”
Chahal was able to come to terms that he looked different than most of his competitors and embraced his individuality.
“I was able to put that behind me and just concentrate on competing,” he said. “People are open to have their own opinions and they are going to do whatever they want to do, you just can’t let it get to you.
“For me, it was just a matter of getting over some people’s perceptions they might have about me and the way they look at me … but this is just a part of who I am. It’s not just that I run for myself, but I also run for my people.”
Said Burroughs cross-country and track coach John Peebles: “He’s not going to hide anything. He is who he is. He’s a nice kid and if people have questions about him, he is willing to talk to them about it. Wearing [the turban] is just part of who Jagdeep is.”
Chahal definitely stood out during a wildly successful senior campaign, and that had more to do with his accomplishments on the cross-country course and the running track.
In cross-country, Chahal won the Pacific League individual championship and advanced to the CIF State Division I finals. In track and field, he ran to CIF Southern Section Division I and Masters Meet championships in the 1,600 meters and advanced to state competition in the 1,600 and 3,200.
For his accomplishments, Chahal has been named the 2017-18 Burbank Leader Boys’ Athlete of the Year.
Chahal jumped right into success in the fall of his senior campaign in cross-country.
At the Pacific League finals at Arcadia County Park, Chahal pulled of a thrilling upset. The Indians runner displayed a furious kick at the end of the three-mile race, running down defending champion Colin FitzGerald of Crescenta Valley and winning the title in 14 minutes, 39.6 seconds.
“I remember during my junior year in track season, I beat Colin in a race for the first time,” said Chahal, who will be moving on to compete at UC Santa Barbara. “After that, I really had confidence in myself that I could beat him. I really thought a league title in cross-country was not impossible. It was out there, within my reach.
“Then when I was able to catch him and win that race, it was pretty special. It was an awesome race. People always ask me how I have the kick and it’s not that I save anything for the end of a race, but it’s just always there when I need it. It’s just a mini-part of my tank that I can’t use in the race, but that I have at the end. “
Chahal went on to finish fifth at the Southern Section Division I finals in a time of 14:46.8 and placed 15th with a 15:32.7 at the CIF State Championships at Fresno's Woodward Park.
But that was just a prelude for a track and field season that was record-breaking and which featured a wealth of success.
“For his success as a senior, sometimes you get to a point where you have a greater sense of urgency or a realization of what you can do, and I definitely think this year in track he really had a strong mindset of what he wanted to accomplish,” Peebles said. “It was really a learning process for him, kind of understanding what you can do and accepting that challenge.”
Chahal opened some eyes in track and field at the 60th annual Mt. San Antonio College Relays at El Camino College in Torrance, finishing second in the 3,200 meters in a then-school record time of 9:00.61.
In the Pacific League finals, Chahal pulled off an impressive double, capturing league titles in the 1,600 (4:21.10) and and 3,200 (9:13.24).
“It was just a challenge for me to try and improve week by week,” Chahal said. “And I knew if I wanted to accomplish that, I would have to continue working hard.”
At the CIF Division I prelims, the senior finished third in the 1,600 (4:17.55) and eighth in the 3,200 (9:07.58) to earn a berth to the CIF finals at El Camino College. In the finals, Chahal earned a spot in the Burroughs history books by winning the 1,600 championship in a school-record time of 4:12.73
He became the program’s first boys’ CIF distance champion and Burroughs’ fourth CIF track and field champion.
Chahal also finished third in the 3,200 (9:05.85).
Back at El Camino College for the Masters Meet, Chahal won a title in the 1,600, lowering his school record to 4:11.09, and placed third in the 3,200 in a personal-best 9:04.83.
It was then on to the CIF State Meet. Chahal finished his successful campaign with a fourth-place finish in the 1,600 (4:12.16) before before placing 14th in the 3,200 (9:09.05).
“State wasn’t really what I wanted,” Chahal said. “I ended getting fourth with a 4:12 and I really wanted to go sub-4:10. But sometimes It doesn’t happen and sometimes you don’t always have your best race.
“But really for me, CIF Masters was insane. That was the best double I’ve ever had. I had a PR in the [1,600] and was able to get that 9:04 in the [3,200]. That was just awesome for me.”
Ready to make the jump to college competition, Chahal allowed himself to look back one last time on a senior season at Burroughs.
“I really am proud of everything that I have been able to accomplish,” he said. “All the hard work that I put in … it really shows that putting in that hard work pays off. When I would have some success that just pushed me and fueled me to work harder.
“It was just a great experience.”
Top Five Boys' Athletes of the Year
1. Jagdeep Chahal, Burroughs cross-country, track and field
2. David Arakelyan, Burroughs water polo
3. Cole Kaitz, Burroughs volleyball
4. Matthew Porras, Burbank football, baseball