By Mike Smith
Winter track. With the indoor season upon us, our thoughts (for some) turn to winter track. I’ll be at the helm of Mascenic again, making the cramped, early morning bus rides to Durham, enduring the canceled practices due to afternoon snow, the low numbers around Christmas and the fervor that builds as we close in on that big day; the State Championships that some people know as Super Bowl Sunday.
But I had the opportunity to think about a different winter track.
I just enjoyed the Junior Olympic Cross Country meet in Reno, NV this past weekend and on our trip there we had a layover in Philadelphia. On our descent into Philly, I was able to glance out the window at the humanity below. The housing developments, the access roads and the warehouses all blend together in the landscape, but one thing always stands out to me when I see it. A track. The distinct oval.
I’ve noticed that in my adult travels that when I gaze out the plane window the one thing that always catches my eye is that 400 meters of measured out “specificness”. Maybe it’s the countless turns I’ve taken around so many of them in so many places. Maybe it’s Tualatin HS track outside of Portland, OR where I tested out our 3 x 10 x 200 meter workout for the first time. Maybe it’s the one just down from my cousin’s place outside Montreal where I “showed off” my new found expertise in hurdling to smoke the “local” competition. Maybe it’s the clay track in Winthrop, Washington where I turned some laps because I was deep in the national forest and it was on fire. Maybe it’s historic Hayward Field in Eugene that I made a pilgrimage to 15 years ago to pay my respects to three legends. Or maybe it’s the 350 meter stone dust beauty at Saima Park just outside downtown Fitchburg where I learned track and field wasn’t something that had to end once our time at school was over.
As I see this distinctly recognizable symbol all over the country, I realize that the sport of track and field is woven in the fabric of America. While baseball is America’s pastime and Super Bowl Sunday is practically a national holiday, track and field is every man’s sport. One that no matter your background, upbringing, status or aptitude, is approachable and available to all.
And while many feel the sport is stumbling, finding less and less a market share, I’d venture to say the sport is alive and well. You just need to know where to look for it. True, in days of old, Olympic hopefuls were household names. Summer twilight meets were packed and the sport played on the same level as the big three, baseball, basketball and football. But back in the day of amateur athletics, only those dedicated and fortunate enough were able to continue in the sport hoping for their opportunity.
Today the accessibility of “athletics” is available to everyone, from inner city kids to 86 year old masters world record holders. No one needs to be turned away no matter their background, ability, experience or age. This is a strength that’s unique and will aid in insuring the sports longevity.
So while I will bemoan the cramped bus rides and interrupted training and racing schedules, I’ll be excitedly waiting that spectacular display of athleticism, camaraderie, and competition that happens that first Sunday in February, the NH Indoor Track State Championships.