By Lance Melching
I know I don’t understand track athletes.I spent a few years with them in high school pretending to be one of them. I did all the stretching, little shorts wearing and repetitive circle running. I even tried high-hurdling.
I think I literally hated every second of it.
So what is it that motivates track athletes to get up and do what they do?
I spent last Friday afternoon at Tom Samuels Track trying to figure that out.
Despite the fact that it was raining, I was immediately put in good spirits with a free maroon coozie featuring the new Colonel logo. Why this hadn’t filled the stands to capacity baffled me.
The new logo is the campus’ hottest new property and beverage refrigeration has been a primary concern of college students for decades. I would have thought that marrying those two interests would have pulled in droves of students.
Welcome to the life of the track athlete: where not even drinking paraphernalia can drive up interest in your sport.
I spotted senior long-jumper Jon Walker standing in the field and decided I’d ask him why he was out here in the rain.
Is it the boisterous and supportive crowd?
“No, definitely not the crowd.”
How about the lavish media coverage?
“Ah, certainly not that.”
Maybe the adoration and respect of the campus?
“I love it when my name shows up in the paper and I’m the only one that notices.”
How about all of the free swag?
“Oh, yeah. I get a lot of pull for being a long-jumper on the team.”
By this time his sarcasm was falling as steady as the rain.
Why do you do it then?
“I come out here because I love it.”
Seriously, Jon. You love track?
“I don’t know what I would do without it.”
How about we at least get a mahogany locker room built out here in the infield?
“It’s not a glorified life but it’s one that I live and I love it. I wouldn’t change anything about it.” Hardly able to comprehend what I was hearing, I turned away and looked for someone with some sense. Walker was standing in the rain on a Friday afternoon and he loved it! My socks were wet and I was miserable.
I noticed junior thrower Lindsey Stanley standing near the discus pad looking less than thrilled. Here was someone who looked like they had an appropriate evaluation of the situation.
As I approached her, I was shocked to see her disposition morph into glee.
Are you really enjoying this, Lindsey?
“It’s one of the funnest things I’ve ever done.”
I stood aghast. How is it fun?
“It’s really all about doing it for yourself and doing it because this is what you love. I love life as a student athlete. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Clearly these individuals are in possession of some capacity that I lack.
Throwers Tristan Blackburn and Randy Hopkins were standing nearby and speaking a language I could understand.
“We go out pretty much everyday, all year. (We’re) out here working our butts off and nobody really comes to anything,” Hopkins said. “No students, parents, teachers, anything.”
“This is the first year since I’ve been here that we’ve had a coach for field events,” Blackburn, a senior, said.
Complaining! I could relate to that. I complained a little about the rain and asked if there was anything we could do about it, like maybe build a retractable dome over the track. Blackburn was immediately skeptical.
“No, no dome. No respect. No nothing.”
At least you have lights. That’s more than the baseball team can say for their facility.
“We do have lights, but that’s about it.”
What about in the way of fans?
“Our close teammates and our coach and our parents. Occasionally.”
I asked if anything would change that, such as a conference title. Hopkins sounded optimistic.
“I think it will give us a little more respect on campus. We actually have a pretty good team. A bunch of guys are going to the regional meet and a couple guys will make the national meet.”
I wished them luck and decided to call it an afternoon. Whatever these track people had that made them want to come out and stand in the rain, I didn’t have it. I was going to watch some ESPN and take a nap.
But on the way out, I bumped into senior hurdler/high jumper Ebony Jones. I asked her the same question I’d asked all the others. What are you doing out here?
“I love track. It’s great. You’ve got to love this to be out here in this kind of weather.”
At this point, she was also smiling inexplicably and I began to wonder if there was some larger joke that I was missing.
What can you love about track? Doesn’t it take ridiculous training and responsible sleeping and proper eating?
“It’s crucial. I’ve probably been full-fledged training since October. If you’re not sleeping right and eating right and taking vitamins, there’s nothing left.”
So why do it all?
“If you’re a strong student-athlete, you can do anything. It’s preparing you for anything.”
I thought to myself that clearly it was preparing her for boot camp.
I thought I’d ask one more question before heading to the parking lot: Is there anything else that motivates you to come out here?
“Because people believe in me. I’m a family woman. I have a child.”
I was incredulous.
You balance all of the demands on top of having a child?
What Jones said next floored me.
“(My son) thinks I’m great. To him, I’m like a superstar. That’s motivation for me; when I can call home and say ‘Guess what mommy ran today,’ that’s the biggest thing.”
Now there was a reason I could appreciate. I didn’t understand this other stuff about a love of the sport of track. I didn’t understand it in high school either.
But doing it to watch your child’s eyes light up? Even I would say that’s worth it.
Eastern Progress Question of the Week
This semester, The Progress sports section and EKUPride.com are teaming up to sponsor a question of the week.
Each week a question will be posted in this column and readers will be encouraged to respond on the message board at www.ekupride.com/forums.
This week’s question: Who are the top five Eastern athletes for the ’05-’06 year?
Reach Lance at