Memories from the 2010 USA Championships
The 2010 USA Championships at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa are now over. There were some exciting races and great performances (American records in the women’s javelin and high jump). However, there being no international championship in 2010, this meet lacked much of the drama of the past couple USA Championship meets when berths on the USA team for the Olympics and World Championships were on the line.
However, I still enjoyed the experience in Iowa. A big reason I like to attend meets like this is to interact with other track geeks like me (one of Malinda’s reactions when she first went to a big meet with me was, “My gosh, these guys here are just as geeky as Andy!”) On more than one occasion I have heard people remark that no matter where you are, in your seat at the track or in the sports bar after the meet, you can start talking to the person next to you and discover you have much in common – mainly a love for the sport of track & field. You are bound to be introduced to someone’s friend by a friend of a friend and next thing you know you are giving your opinion on the 800 meter final tactics of Nick Symmonds and exchanging e-mall addresses. So even though there was a little less energy at this meet than there was in Eugene the last two years and even though there was no Villard Street Pub to meet up with people after the meet, I still had some memorable conversations over the weekend.
On the first day Malinda and I sat in our seats in Section V, Row 15, Seats 12 and 13. Sitting next to us in Section V, Row 15, Seats 14 and 15 were a married couple. After some time I could tell they must have a daughter running in the meet. And a bit later I realized that the daughter was in the 1500, just like Shannon Rowbury. “This could be awkward,” was my initial thought. Fortunately Shannon was in heat one and their daughter was in heat two. I figured out from their cheering that their daughter’s name was Lauren – so after consulting my heat sheet, it had to be Mr. and Mrs. Centrowitz or Mr. and Mrs. Hagans sitting to my right. A couple of quick glances at what they were wearing did not solve the mystery but eventually I figured out it was the proud parents of Lauren Hagans sitting next to the proud high school coach (and his wife) of Shannon Rowbury.
On Saturday we got to talking to the Hagans and learned more about Lauren. She graduated from Baylor in 2009 and just recently (in the last couple weeks) moved to Knoxville, Tennessee to be coached by J.J. Clark. But Lauren’s start in the sport is what was really interesting. She was a cheerleader in high school in Little Rock, Arkansas. The high school girls cross country team was so small that they didn’t have a full team. One day the coach asked Lauren, then a sophomore, to run at a meet so they would have five girls. Lauren’s parents were out of town so her grandmother was taking care of her. The grandmother called the parents and asked if it was okay for Lauren to go on, “some overnight track meet.” Lauren’s mom knew that it was the fall so it wasn’t a track meet but figured as long as it was school related it was okay. So began Lauren’s running career. Later that very season she was third at the state meet and the next year she was cross country state champion. She was also a multiple state champion in both indoor and outdoor track. Because the coach that recruited her to run cross country had a contact at Baylor, Lauren got a scholarship to run for Baylor. By her junior and senior year in college she was an All-American, held the school record in the 800, and qualified to run at the 2008 Olympic Trials. And now, less than eight years after trading in her pom poms for running shoes, she lined up at the 2010 USA Championships in position two, between Shalane Flanagan in position one and Shannon Rowbury in position three.
On Saturday night we had dinner with Shannon’s mom, Paula, and Keith Conning. Keith was a long-time Berkeley High School coach and is still heavily involved in Northern California high school running… and he knows a lot of people! On our way out of the Raccoon River Brewing Company, Keith stopped and introduced us to some friends of his. The next thing we know we are talking track with Lloyd (who lives down the 280 from us in Saratoga) and David and Don (who are from Akron, Ohio). I told David that I have always wanted to go to the Akron Marathon to run the marathon relay with a Pamakids team and he promptly handed me his business card.
On Sunday night, Malinda and I walked around an almost empty downtown Des Moines. Many restaurants were closed and there weren’t a lot of track & field athletes or fans out and about. We were about to head back to our hotel and start packing for the drive westward when I decided to call David. He was excited to hear from me and we agreed to meet at the Rock River Grill and Tavern in the Marriott Hotel. Again we had a great time telling stories, pausing only to take pictures with the costumed airport auditors across the way and to shake hands with 110 meter hurdle champion (and all-around super nice guy) David Oliver.
My favorite story of the night came from Don. We were on the subject of healthy eating and Malinda explained how we gave up eating ice cream every night. Don made a pained look when she said this and I knew I had a friend. Don, much like me, is a fan of the ice cream. He said he does give up ice cream at the end of his marathon training – which means he is craving ice cream after the marathon so he has a Boston marathon ice cream tradition. Midway between the Boston finish line and his hotel is a Ben and Jerry’s. Twelve years ago he walked into that Ben and Jerry’s the day before the marathon with an envelope. Inside the envelope was a five dollar bill. Written on the envelope was his name, his bib number, and the words “Cherry Garcia.” He handed it to the scoop boy and told him he would be in the next day to get his ice cream. After the race, he walked over to Ben and Jerry’s and his bowl of Cherry Garcia was waiting for him. Twelve years later this has become a ritual. That scoop boy is now a regional manager for multiple Ben and Jerry’s in the Boston area, but he makes sure to be working at the store near the Boston Marathon finish line the weekend of Boston so he can get Don’s envelope on Sunday and serve him his ice cream post-race on Monday.
This last year, Don had some friends with him at the Sunday envelope drop off at Ben and Jerry’s. He brought some extra envelopes and asked if anyone wanted to join in the ritual. Two friends decided to do it. One friend finished a few minutes ahead of Don and headed to Ben and Jerry’s. Don decided to linger at the finish line longer than usual chatting and waiting for his other buddy, so he headed over to Ben and Jerry’s a little later than usual. When he arrived he saw his friend with his ice cream – signing a waiver of release and having his picture taken by a photographer from a major magazine. The photographer saw the marathoner chowing down on ice cream right after the race and thought it would make for a great photo. Isn’t that how it always goes? You have some creative idea and have been doing it for years. Then someone comes along, borrows your idea, and the first time they do it, they get all the recognition! Well, at least Don had a great story to tell us sitting around at the bar talking to his new friends from San Francisco.
Making friends and hearing stories from other track fans from around the country…that’s what makes attending the USA Championships a fun meet for me.