We’re at a very difficult point in our country. Where division is at it’s highest, where people of different political parties instantly judge and don’t interact. Where individuals are oppressed, and economic disparities are front and center. The sport of track and field provides a small glimmer of hope and path to follow.
I grew up in the suburbs of Houston, blissfully unaware of much of the world. It wasn’t until I joined a track team that I was truly exposed to and understand the vast array of experiences and cultures in the world. Diversity is one reason why I love the sport of track and field. It pulls together individuals of different ethnicity, economic backgrounds, countries, and cultures. We have ‘natural’ divisions with throwers, jumpers, distance runners, sprinters, and multi-athletes, but at the end of the day, we have to come together and support events that we might not understand fully. We have to support those who might have grown up with different circumstances or privileges.
Track teaches you a lot about life. It makes you comfortable interacting with just about anyone. And to appreciate hard work, even if its different from your kind of hard work.
I love seeing athletes break down the societal dictated barriers to understand each other & unite as a team. The best teams I’ve been a part of, did just that. People with different talents and skill sets, who came from different cultures, who have to understand what in the world it means to run a 4-minute mile, run 10.2 in the 100m, throw a javelin, or pole vault 17 feet. That their pursuit might not relate much to yours, but it’s just as valuable.
You learn and become friends with those who grew up in different countries, in the suburbs, in the cities, with a country club, or in poverty. And you learn that when you’re on a team, that doesn’t matter. That what’s important that you’re supporting each other, all working towards a shared purpose, all doing what you can to accomplish the goal.
That’s why Track and Field is the best sport. It takes us out of our bubbles and gets us to realize the world is much bigger, more diverse. And that there is power in that, if we just learn to come together, understand one another, and unite in a shared purpose.
Support and unity is fantastic. Awareness is great, but there is one step further that is the important one. Teammates stand up for one another. In my career as a coach, there was the time when two of the best sprinters in the nation stood up for a distance runner teammates who had fallen moments from capturing glory. There was the moment where we almost lost a championship due to a disqualification of a middle-distance runner. There was no blame, only standing up and having that teammates back. A teammate is someone who you can count on, even when it’s uncomfortable. Support isn’t always enough. Sometimes we need to do more than just understand. We need to have each others back, to stand up with them.
Somehow society needs to find a way to imitate a track team. To find a common purpose, to unite and appreciate our diversity and different skill sets. To value our differences, to appreciate the different kinds of work and obstacles that others go through. I don’t have the answer on how to do that, but being part of the very small bubble of a track team gives me hope.