The 2016 Olympic Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro were a blast and it got me thinking about my old glory days as a high school track star. Well, maybe star is a bit of a reach but I was on the varsity team for all four years of high school and in that time I competed in every single event of both track and field. I won medals, broke a school record and even went to the state championship but I’m not here to brag, I’m here to take a trip down memory lane and look back at a sport that used to be a big part of my life.
Growing up, soccer was my sport of choice. I loved it. I played indoor during the winter and went to camps in the summer, all in an effort to make varsity some day and get on the pitch with the big kids. Unfortunately, I was an average soccer player. No real natural talent but sound fundamentals and better conditioning made me effective. I knew I had to stay in shape to get any playing time so I started running track in the spring of freshman year. It should be known that the soccer coach was also the track coach, so running track was a good way to earn brownie points.
That first year, coach didn’t really know where to put me so I tried lots of different events. Our team only had one real hurdler so I started training in the 110m and the 300m hurdles until I fell enough times that it was clear that this wasn’t my thing. Next, I did the long distance events. The mile and two mile runs, but I really didn’t like those. I got bored and would lose focus. Next came the sprints. I was much too slow out of the blocks for the 100m or the 200m dashes but in the 400m, I had enough time to catch up to the quicker kids and let my endurance win me a few races. I finally found my home.
Now, if you don’t know, the 400m is the worst. It’s technically a sprint but it’s a full lap of the track. That’s a quarter mile. Sprint. It’s brutal. After every serious contest I had in the 400m, I would throw up. It almost always happened. My body was in such shock. I’d post a solid time then wander behind some bushes or puke on the infield. I’d aim for the end zones if the football field lines were still painted. Touchdown.
The 400m was my jam, but you can be in up to four events at a single track meet so I had to fill the rest of my dance card. Naturally, I also competed in the 4x400m relay. Leaving my coach two spots to throw me wherever he saw fit.
Now is as good of a time as any to explain that I went to a really small school. Class D, Division 4. It was a strange place that is somehow both half hippy art school and half college prep. It’s a non-religious, private K-12 located in the northern suburbs of Detroit. Most of the schools we played against were rich christian private schools. So there were times at track meets where the competition was very light in certain events and that’s where coach would put me.
This strategy found me in long jump, shot put, discus, and even high jump. I’m just glad we didn’t have pole vault or else I’m sure they would have made me try that too. But this little tricked worked. I’d place in the event and earn a few extra points to help the team win the meet. The season would end with the league meet where we square off against all the other schools in our area. This was our big race of the year. After that, the few stand out runners would continue on to regionals and maybe even states in individual events. We never had enough qualifying athletes make to make run at a state championship for the school.
I stuck with track sophomore and junior years. I got better and faster. Hit the weight room and really saw progress in all my events. We’d go to tournaments after a long bus rides and I’d come home with a few medals. I never won like that in anything else. It was pretty great feeling. End of junior year, we had a nasty 4x400m relay team that rolled into the league meet and took first by a wide margin. Our time earned us a place in regionals where we kept it rolling and qualified for the state championship.
The state meet is on a weekend, like most big track and field events. The reason is because it takes forever and they need to start early. I’m talking like 8-10 hours long. It was also kind of far away so our team had to drive out the night before and stay in a hotel. Like a real NBA star. Friday night we went out for steaks and Saturday morning we rolled to the meet blasting Eye of the Tiger. We warmed up. We felt good. No nerves. Our relay team had clean hand offs and we all posted our best personal times but we didn’t even place.
I wasn’t mad, neither were my teammates or the coach. We all ran the fastest we have ever had and performed well as a crew but we came up short of being best in the state. Hell, I never thought I’d get that far. How could we be mad? Later we found out that we broke our school’s record for the 4x400m relay which was a perfect end to that chapter.
My senior year, I was named captain of the team and we were all looking forward to keeping our league championship streak alive. As the season and school year came to an end, my enthusiasm for track was waning. I decided to tell my coach that after the league meet, I didn’t want to pursue the individual events at the later tournaments. They were all on weekends in far off places and I wanted to go to graduation parties and find a girl that would let me get to second base. My coach unfortunately did not understand. He told me if I wanted to quit that I should do it now. I countered and explained that the league meet was important to me because that was the team’s big day but he couldn’t hear it. He asked for my uniform and told me to leave. I guess he wanted to wear those short shorts of mine in private.
The next day, coach told the team that I quit. They ended up losing the league meet too. First time in six years. It was maybe an ugly breakup but I dug my time in track and field. It treated me well. I was more successful in that sport than anything else. It used to bum me out that track was the thing I was good at when I loved so many other sports more but I’ve moved on from that. Now, I’m just grateful that I went out and gave it my all with my friends by my side.