I have track blood in my family. My Great Uncle Irvine won the 1944 Olympic Trials for the decathlon and would have represented the United States in the Olympics weren’t canceled due to World War II. He competed in the 1948 Olympics and came in eighth place. He eventually became the coach at the University of Pennsylvania and coached the 1988 Olympics. Everybody knew who Moon Mondschein was in the track world.
My Grandpa Stanley was also a track star. He attended NYU and was an All-American in the shot put and discus. He competed for the United States in the Maccabiah Games, where he was a double gold medal winner for both of those events. In 1954, he also set a world record in the shotput. At one point, he was one of the top 5 shotput throwers in the world. He would have competed in the 1954 Olympics if it wasn’t for a knee injury.
My dad was also a track star. He ran the 200- and 400-meter races and set several records at his high school. He was also an anchor in the mile relay. He was an all-state runner by his senior year and went on to run in college. Because of his last name, everybody who was anyone in the track circles knew who he was. One of his favorite stories is that when he was in college, running the mile relay in the Penn Relays, there was some sort of mess up with the timing and they were unable to record his split. But since he was related to Moon Mondschein and Grandpa Stanley, the coaches in the stands all had timed him instead.
Therefore, when I got to high school, it was expected of me that I join the track team too because of my track blood.
I guess that’s why it’s sort of twisted that I hated track. Freshman year was the worst. I was never allowed NOT to run track. My dad did not give me a choice. I couldn’t just come straight home after school, but I never wanted to be at track practice either, so I got very creative. I would feign make-up labs with my physical science teacher, but instead, I would sit in the auditorium of my high school and watch rehearsals for our spring musical. Sometimes, I would go home with my friends, who were lucky enough not to have to participate in a sport and be back at school, in track clothes just before my dad picked me up. Other times I would feign injuries such as twisted ankles and sprained ankles. I’d go to the trainer. The track team was considered to be not nearly as important as our baseball or softball teams, so by the time the trainer was done attending to their injuries, and finally wrapped my ankle, the practice was pretty much over.
Why did I hate track you ask? Well, it was because the pressure from my dad made it miserable. My dad was reliving his track career through me. I never felt like I was ever going to be as good as him at running. He would constantly critique my running form. He’d compare his times to my time. He’d make a big deal about what I ate at meals. And all I ever heard from him was that I needed to prove I inherited the track blood that coursed through the veins of our family.
I couldn’t completely get away with skipping track altogether. My high school had a strict policy where all students were allowed to participate in sports teams with no exceptions. I would probably attend 2-3 practices a week, out of 6. I still participated in all the track meets especially because there were freshman heats. My dad came to all of my meets. He charted my race times. I ran the 100 -meter and 200-meter relay because those were the races that they basically stuck anyone, who wanted to run track, in. I wasn’t the worst runner. In fact, I was one of the better freshman runners, especially at my school. But at the same time, I didn’t really care. All I heard from my dad was how I had so much potential and needed to work harder so I could be as good as he was when he was in high school.
After the season ended, the track captain told me I needed to stop by Coach Wallace’s office to return my uniform and get an award. What award?
After school, I stopped by his office and gave him my uniform. I asked him where my award was. What award? He screamed at me and lectured me about my piss poor attitude and told me that I didn’t even deserve the freshman letter in track that he was required to give him and if he could hold it back, he would.
During my sophomore year, I decided that I wanted to hurdle. I was always a really good jumper, and I thought it looked fun. Also, my dad had never hurdled, so it was finally an event that he couldn’t compare himself to me in.
I loved running the hurdles. There were so few of us that were crazy enough to attempt them and it became my event. My attitude in track completely changed. I started to look forward to 6 days a week practice. In winter track, I ran the 55-meter hurdle dash. I wasn’t the best and I was far from the worst, and I enjoyed it.
There are two hurdle events in Spring track. There were the 400-meter low hurdles and the 100-meter-high hurdles. I hated the 400 hurdles. I ran them in the first meet of the season, and after one race, I literally thought I was going to die. I walked up to Coach Wallace and told him I was never running the 40o hurdles again. He looked at me and told me that he thought I finally changed, but he was wrong.
Junior year was when I decided to quit soccer. My dad thought that I need to play a sport for all three seasons in high school. Therefore, he decided I needed to sign up for cross country since he loved cross country.
Needless to say, I HATED cross country. I hated running distances. I had a horrible sense of direction, and when we went on street runs, not only did I get lost, but I was dead last. I reverted back to my old tactics, feigning ankle, and foot pain. Football was so much higher on the sport scale than cross country, so I was really late to practice. I would also miss meets. I’d be waiting to get my ankle wrapped, and the bus for meets left before I had even gotten my ankle taped.
The final meet of the season was on a Saturday. Coach Wallace told me I had better be there, or else. I joined the team on the bus to the meet, feeling like a complete stranger since I had skipped so many practices and other meets. The course was at a local place named Darlington Park. I lined up for the race. I don’t know if it was my horrible sense of direction or just general lack of geography, but I got lost during the race. The other runners were so much better than me and so much more conditioned than me, so they were so far ahead of me and I had nobody to follow.
I finished dead last. By the time I found my way to the finish line. Everyone had left. The only one waiting there was my dad. Coach Wallace hadn’t even bothered to wait for me to finish the race. He had even left on the bus with the team knowing that my dad could drive me home himself. My dad handed me my participation medal, and we walked back to his car together.
That was when I decided that I needed to stop being a brat.
Junior year winter track my entire attitude changed. I showed up early for every practice. I befriended the underclassmen, who had joined the team that year. I did my 55 hurdles and ran the 300-meter race. I made it all the way to the county meet for the hurdles. I earned my first varsity letter.
During spring track, the team was short a 400-hurdle racer to qualify for the 400-hurdle relay. Coach Wallace looked at me and told me that he needed me to run the race. He didn’t care if I came in dead last, as long I ran the race. I agreed. Our 400-hurdle team came in first place in the league and eventually in the county. I still hated that race and felt like I was going to die at the end of it, but it was nothing that a bottle of orange Powerade couldn’t fix. I anchored the mile relay team and we also placed in the league championship, where I ran my best split ever at 67 seconds. I placed in almost every high hurdle event. I never quite mastered three-stepping between hurdles, but I was still good enough to qualify for state. I became the “go-to” runner. Whenever we were short in a sprinting event, I was the person they called on. I started to love track and finally appreciate my track blood.
But nothing matched the feelings I felt at the varsity letter ceremony in the spring when Coach Wallace gave me the sportsmanship award for the season. And that was my own personal catbird’s seat.