They say it takes a village to raise a child. In our town it takes a village to coach a high school track team.
Last year, the distance coach for the team – a friend of mine – casually mentioned that the team needed someone to teach the kids how to hurdle. My husband blurted out, “My wife had her school record for hurdles for 10 years!” Yes, it’s true, but that was a very, very long time ago. In my current town of 360 people it’s now known that I’m probably the person with the most hurdle experience.
My older brother taught me to hurdle. He was the high school district hurdle champion when I was in Jr. High. I idolized him, and we both idolized two time Olympic gold medalist Edwin Moses. It was nice to have that sibling bond over something. The rock cinder track on which we ran was built around the baseball field so it was shaped like a triangle. It had three sides and very sharp corners. Running the 330-yard hurdles with a hurdle on the second corner could be interesting if you were having a bad day. Especially interesting was the one-inch spiked cleats on our track shoes. Lethal weapons in those days, I’m sure they’re banned today.
For me, hurdles were a way to overcome my extreme shyness and to find something positive about school. I tried but never really felt like I fit in. The top of the podium was never comfortable. I didn’t like being the center of attention and still don’t.
My high school hurdle career abruptly ended when false starting at the state track meet in Portland my senior year. My college hurdle career never began when I learned from the Boise State University track coach that I couldn’t run track because I wasn’t a full-time student. My parents could only afford to send one twin to college. I was the other twin, the one that left home a week after graduation with no car, $20, and no choice but to find a job to pay for food and rent. Sports scholarships for girls weren’t very common back then. I hadn’t thought about jumping hurdles, and had put that memory away for years, until last year.
In small school districts like Cambridge they don’t have big budgets to pay for assistant coaches. Instead, the town comes together and people volunteer whenever they can. The high jump and throwing coach is one of the local ranchers. Even outsiders like me that weren’t born or raised in the town still help out. It’s expected. Like an old-fashioned barn raising, it’s a sense of community.
Our running track is probably not that uncommon for a lot of small rural schools. Dirt track, rocks, weeds, and two sets of small metal bleachers. Last year, I rustled up a few very old, bent, rusty hurdles tucked under a pine tree at the end of the football field; they wouldn’t go up or down. Last year, with only two kids wanting to try hurdles, those old hurdles would have to do.
Over the winter and like a Christmas miracle surprise, ten new hurdles showed up. The hurdles were donated by a local non-profit education foundation. The first month of practice this spring was in the school gym because the dirt track was underwater after a winter’s worth of snow melt.
This year we have three freshmen, one sophomore, and a handful of junior high kids who are trying hurdles for the first time. These kids, despite the lack of a fancy track, are just as excited about running, doing their hurdle drills, and training after school every day as the kids from big schools with all the state of the art track and field equipment. They work just as hard.
In the future it would be nice to have an actual track and enough hurdles to put on a race. Currently, all of our track meets are out of town. It would also be nice to be able to host home meets so that the parents that can’t or are too busy to drive to the meets could watch their kids compete.
I’m proud of these kids. I hope their parents are proud.