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June 11, 2001

On the fast track

By Eric Rangus


The team was, in a word, eclectic. Following the opening leg of the 4x400-meter relay, the high-schooler, his red singlet blazing, handed the baton to a pre-teen boy. Up next was a 40-ish man in a baseball cap. Running the anchor leg was a 20-something woman.

Welcome to all-comers track and field, a pickup track meet if there ever was one.

“That’s a perfect way to describe it,” said John Curtin, Emory’s men’s and women’s track coach.
Seven times this summer—each Tuesday from May 8 to June 19—Emory hosts the All-Comers Track and Field Meet, sponsored by the Atlanta Track Club.

High-school sprinters decked out in their uniforms, 5K runners looking to shave a few seconds off their personal bests, youth track teams scurrying about in their team colors (the Bumblebees in yellow and black, the Flying Eagles in maroon and gold, Chariots of Fire in white and red), and dozens of others from 8 to 80 (70-year-old Casey Jones has been a fixture in the 800-meter run for several years) simply out for a unique workout.

“It’s become kind of an institution,” Curtin said of the event, which Emory has hosted for the past 10 years. “It’s a wonderful thing Emory does. The school opens itself to a part of the community that wouldn’t connect with Emory if not for this program.”

The all-comers meets draw most everyone, except one significant group: the Emory community.
Karen Kennington, purchasing coordinator for the Emory Hospital pharmacy, is one of only a handful of Emory staff or faculty who participate in all-comers. She runs the 3K and 5K and volunteers as a long-jump judge.

“I don’t think a lot of [Emory people] are aware that this is going on,” she said. “You can get off work at 5 and be out here by 5:30. Sometimes people are intimidated—they might think, ‘A track meet? Oh, I’m too slow.’ But then they do it, and it doesn’t make a difference.”

Still, the meets do not hurt for participation. They draw between 300 and 500 competitors each week, plus spectators.

“This is an event, but we need more people to come out,” said Wallace Madden shortly after he finished the 200-meter dash. The 33-year-old Atlanta native is not affiliated with Emory but pays his $1 entrance fee and runs in the meets to stay in shape. “You’ve got people out here with their kids. You see a kid, you never know what they’ll do or how good they could be.”

Perhaps the most noticeable thing upon walking through the gate for a meet is the proliferation of children, many on youth track teams and many African American. And quite a few with noticeable talent.

“They really enjoy it,” said Sharon Gordon, coach of Chariots of Fire, a newly formed team from DeKalb County. “They’re learning a lot; we have a lot of first-time runners.” Not only does Gordon’s team learn about running, but they get a crash course in discipline, too. In between events, while members of some teams meander about the infield, Chariots of Fire is lined up doing calisthenics.

And they aren’t the only team being schooled.

“I’m mad at you because you didn’t run,” Salethia Mims scolds one of her young runners, a boy who had slowed to walk on the backstretch of his leg of the 4x400. “There’s no reason why you can’t run.” Sure enough, he was back on the track for the 200, running all the way.

“I love this track,” said Mims, a rising sophomore at Morris Brown and member of its women’s track team. She coaches the blue-shirted Jones Boys and Girls Club out of Decatur. Her younger runners, she said, run mainly for the fun of it. But for the older members of the team (their ages range from 7 to 18), some competition definitely creeps in. “The older ones want to come out and compete,” she said. “They want to beat the other teams.”

But don’t get the idea that the meet is kids’ stuff. Competitors are matched up by age and skill level. Rarely will an adult be matched up against a child. Only in the relays might some of the heats (and teams) get a little quirky.

As an extra bonus for participation, athletes might even get to do some star gazing. Olympic gold medalist Gwen Torrance has run in previous years. Mike Montgomery, Susan Smith (an Irish 400m hurdler) and Sydney Maree—all Olympic athletes—also have competed.

And, on May 29, Sydney Olympic gold medalist in the 400-meter hurdles Angelo Taylor ran a low-key leg of the 4x400 relay.

Competing, even for non-Olympians, is simple: just show up. The Atlanta Track Club sponsors events throughout the year, most of them tilted toward middle-distance running, but the Emory meet has something for everyone. The long-jump pit at one end of the infield is a bustle of activity throughout, as are the pole vault and high jump at the other end. And all the while runners circle the track warming up in the outside lanes while others compete in the inner ones.

Some events (the hurdles, race walk, 1,500-meter run, 50-meter dash for children 10 and under, and the parent/child-coach athlete relay) are held each week. Others (the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash, 400-meter dash, 800-meter run, two distance runs and two relays) alternate weeks.

Each event is open to anyone who wishes to participate, though some age-related restrictions are in place (a 5-year-old, for instance, cannot run in a 5K). Runners just need to check in with clerk-of-the-course Carol Rivera, who should stand out in the crowd.

“She wears pink so we can spot her,” said Bob Brennan, the PA announcer. “She’s blond, but everybody’s blond.” Her bullhorn and clipboard make her easy to identify, too.

She focuses on grouping the young runners by age and sex. Older runners pretty much gravitate toward their demographic on their own. Most events have several heats, particularly the sprints, but they also move quickly.

The loudest cheers come during the 50 for children 10 and under. Not only is it run down the front stretch—as close to parents as possible—but just the image of eight runners all in a row, heads back, legs pumping like pistons, arms flailing, would bring a smile to even the most stone-faced spectator.

“We have a lot of people on the track club come out,” Curtin said. “Now they’re bringing their children out. This really is a wholesome, family-type activity.”



Back to Emory Report June 11, 2001