AAU, The Ohio Heat And Their Impact On Justin Braun

* Justin Braun shown at his final AAU Junior Olympic Games, the 2022 edition at North Carolina A&T State University.

Photo Credit: David Nguyen/MileSplit


By Mark Dwyer - MileSplit



The next installment of the annual Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Junior Olympic Games is slated for July 29th to August 5th on the campus of Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. 

Ohioans representing the U8 to 17-18 age-categories will descend upon the Hawkeye state to test their skills at the country's premier youth-based track and field competition. 

Notably, that group will include what we anticipate to be a full roster from one of the Midwest Region's top club programs, the Ohio Heat

Conspicuous by his absence at this upcoming JOs edition, however, will be Heat alum Justin Braun

A fixture at the AAU summer spectacle in recent years, Braun, the former Westerville Central Warhawk star and current University of Southern California Trojan, will be supporting his former team from afar following his Junior Olympics career finale at North Carolina A&T State University in 2022, where he toed the line as an 18-year-old competitor. 

The superlatives run deep when reviewing Braun's body of work on the track. State titles at the middle school and high school levels, national championships, some of the fastest marks ever recorded by an Ohio sprinter and the prestigious Gatorade Player of the Year honor anchor his decorated resume. 

In addition to all the success he enjoyed on the scholastic scene, Braun further honed his skills within the AAU circuit and he credits those opportunities he was afforded during the summer seasons for helping him to become the athlete he is today.

As we look ahead with excitement to the possibilities for our state's 2023 participants, Braun guided us down memory lane by outlining the important influence that AAU and, in particular, the Junior Olympics meet, had on his trajectory within the sport.


Streaming: You can watch the 2023 AAU Junior Olympic Games LIVE on FloTrack. MileSplit subscribers will need to upgrade to the Universal plan to access the livestream.

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Video footage from the event will be archived and stored in a video library for both MileSplit and FloSports subscribers to watch fro the duration of their subscription. 

'Iron Sharpens Iron' - Training with the Ohio Heat 

To say that Braun benefited from mixing it up with high caliber teammates during the course of his summer training while repping the Columbus and greater area Heat squad would be a huge understatement. 

Fine-tuning his craft with former state champions, future collegians and a collection of some of the best track and field talent ever produced in Central Ohio comprised his daily sessions. 

"The Ohio Heat has enabled me to experience the best training possible by working alongside Ohio sprint legends such as Evan Matthews, Denzell Feagin, Terry Simuel, Zach Robinson and Jayden Douglas," Braun said. 

At the controls - Coach Peppers imparts knowledge and wisdom 

It's one thing to have a talent-laden group like the Ohio Heat displays, but you still need someone steering the ship. For the team that doesn't rebuild, but rather reloads, yearly, Coach Tremayne Peppers does just that. 

"Coach Peppers was and is to this day a major influence in my life," Braun said. 

"He's always taken the time to answer my questions plus he guided me and supported me over the years." 

"Coach Peppers was also extremely helpful to me as I was going through the college recruiting process. There is truly no end to his wisdom regarding track," Braun said. 

Braun's respect, admiration and appreciation for his long-time club coach are certainly reciprocated. The veteran coach, and director of track and field programming for the Ohio Heat, had a glowing review when asked about his former athlete.

"Justin, as great as he is on the track, was even more impactful as a teammate. He helped change the culture of the Ohio Heat. He's passionate, he's relentless and he was a big brother to many of the athletes on the team," Peppers said.

"Justin is the most ferocious, humble and gracious young man I've ever coached and he's been as much a blessing to me as I could've been to him. He's the reason l didn't stop coaching and I'm forever grateful for that." 

"Hopefully after his career is over, he lets me retire by taking over the club because his growing knowledge of the sport far exceeds his time in it," Peppers said.

The significance of AAU

In Braun's case, the importance of AAU extended well beyond just his own personal endeavors. Family-wide, it offered value in the form of recreation, relationship building and planning for the future. 

"As a parent with zero previous track experience, I am extremely grateful that we made the decision to join summer track," said Kristin Braun, who is Justin's mom. 

"We realized that running AAU would provide Justin with the opportunity to compete on a big stage with top athletes from across the country." 

"Training with the Ohio Heat and competing in AAU allowed Justin to develop as an athlete and to get the exposure we were looking for to help with college recruiting." 

"AAU also provides the opportunity for athletes to create great friendships along the way," Kristin Braun said. 

For Justin, being the competitor that he is, AAU acting as a platform to put his sprinting abilities to the test is what resonated the most. 

"AAU track and field is physically and mentally taxing, battling summer temperatures and some of the best competition makes it a truly unique experience. The feeling and pride that winning an age-group title brings, though, is unmatched." 

"When you go through a whole year of competing and end up on top, it means the world," Braun said.

Lasting memories 

While it won't be the same JOs experience without Braun present, the 2023 version, however, is likely to act as a showcase for the next Buckeye state track and field standout. 

In closing we asked Braun to reflect on an all-time highlight from his AAU tenure. 

"My favorite experience was winning the 400m my freshman year. After taking a loss at AAU Club Nationals earlier that summer, I understood that everything was riding on the big show." 

"Being in lane 8 was something I couldn't prepare for, but I think my ignorance was something that saved me in the moment."

"I didnt even question what lane I was in, my only objective was to bring back the win, Braun said."

Absent from Braun's aforementioned race summary was that his gold medal effort he delivered at JOs in 2019 included, notably, a victory over future Olympian, and current U.S. sprints phenom, Erriyon Knighton.