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Grant Birkinshaw set an under 20 New Zealand Long Jump record in Hamilton in 1969, representing Hawkes Bay.
Shortly after, he received a full scholarship offer from the University of Washington, in Seattle. He enrolled in June 1970, a few months before John attended Washington State University, in Pullman, Washington State.
Since retiring he has coached, taken an interest in statistics and authored a book, A History of Indoor Track and Field 1849–2013.