Lane 6 is Open
My first introduction to the sport of Track and Field was my father’s big green ‘W’ that he earned at the old Minneapolis West High School. I admired that letter very much. Through conversations, I learned that he was awarded the letter for his efforts running track on the cinders of West High. His best events were the 220 yard dash and, by extension, the 4 x 220 relay. And so it was that – after a couple unremarkable years of youth soccer – I joined the junior high track team in 7th grade with the full intention of being a sprinter in the 220. It only took 2 or 3 meets to learn that I didn’t inherit my dad’s fast-twitch genes. Sore knees also made an attempt at the high jump a short-lived one. I was starting to become disenchanted with this track thing. Fortunately, our coaches were very patient and encouraging. They wanted the sport to be fun and to help young athletes find their strengths. I’ll never forget a conversation with one Coach Dornfeldt in which he suggested I had potential in longer distances and convinced me to try the half mile as well as cross country the next fall. I don’t know if he really saw anything or whether he just wanted to help me avoid a dead end in the sprints, but I am sure glad we had that conversation.
Fast forward 35 years to Summer Track, week 2, June 14, 2012. After a long distance career, I was coming full circle and ready to run the week’s feature GP race, the 200 meter. All the youth heats had finished and a cluster of about 15 men remained. Five serious young competitors had lined up, most wearing spikes and setting up blocks. Perry Shaw called out “Lane 6 is open.” Surely, none of us older guys would be foolish enough to line up against this crew. I was planning a laddered workout starting with this race and an early start would give me a tad more rest before the 800. This was kind of like matching my 18 minute 5K against Bernard Lagat. Regardless, my eagerness to get it over with and have that extra rest time trumped any fear of embarrassment. No miracle happened; I still can’t run a 200 worth crap. Fred had enough time to refocus his camera between his shot of the first 5 guys and the nut in the blue shirt. But it was a good warm-up and I even got some words of encouragement from some folks that felt sorry for the slow guy: “keep it up, you can do it!”
And that is what makes Summer Track great. You can make it what you want: An intense effort at a PR in the short distances or some quick warm-up sprints and then a time trial in a mile, 2-mile or 5K. Either way, two constants are the low-key atmosphere and a sense of camaraderie with your fellow competitors.
That is for us adults. For youth, it has become a fixture in the community. As I alluded to in my first paragraph, young competitors need a low pressure environment to enjoy the sport and find their strengths. Summer Track complements a handful of great club teams and strong middle school programs to achieve this purpose. This year has seen some of the largest numbers ever at Summer Track. Rest assured this tradition is playing a role in ensuring Tallahassee’s place as a hotbed of track talent for decades to come. Thank you to Tom Perkins, Perry Shaw, Bill Lott, Gary Droze, Jeanne O’Kon, Lisa Unger, Brian Corbin, Fred Deckert, Judy Alexander and all the others who continue to keep this going.
I do have a few observations on weeks 1 – 3 before closing. In keeping with the youth theme, it is notable that at least four of the top 8 finishers in each of the first 3 women’s Summer GP races were age 13 or younger. Twelve year old Jianni McDole (rising 8th grader at Deerlake Middle School) has made a clean sweep in the 100, 200, and 400. Last week, Rebecca Lightle and Roxanne Hughes were close behind with 67 second 400’s to Jianni’s 66. Matt Antworth recently joined the club to give defending champion Ryan Truchelut a battle in the Summer GP, and he has done it convincingly so far. With an 11.9 100 meter, 23.9 200 meter, and 51 second 400, the 18 year old has also swept to victory in all three events.
Truchelut continues to run well, though, and it will be interesting to see how the competition will be in longer events. Doug Covert (48, 13.6 100 meter and 61 second 400) and Tarik Noriega (42, 27.6 in 200) continue to represent the Masters division well.
There are still 5 Summer Track Thursdays to go. Should you decide to come out, expect to see lots of smiles, good conversation, and some future track stars to watch. And feel free to take my place in lane 6 of the short events.