June 11, 2001
On the fast track
By Eric Rangus email@example.com
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
Thats a perfect way to describe it, said John Curtin,
Emorys mens and womens track coach.
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.
Its become kind of an institution, Curtin said of the
event, which Emory has hosted for the past 10 years. Its a
wonderful thing Emory does. The school opens itself to a part of the community
that wouldnt connect with Emory if not for this program.
The all-comers meets draw most everyone, except one significant group:
the Emory community.
I dont 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 intimidatedthey might think,
A track meet? Oh, Im too slow. But then they do it,
and it doesnt 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. Youve got people out
here with their kids. You see a kid, you never know what theyll
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. Theyre learning
a lot; we have a lot of first-time runners. Not only does Gordons
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 arent the only team being schooled.
Im mad at you because you didnt 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. Theres no reason
why you cant 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 womens 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 dont 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 Mareeall
Olympic athletesalso 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. Shes blond, but everybodys 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 stretchas close to parents as possiblebut
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
We have a lot of people on the track club come out, Curtin said. Now theyre bringing their children out. This really is a wholesome, family-type activity.