Saturday, March 24, 2007

If Friday doesn't humble you, nothing will...

Friday here in Mombasa began after breakfast with a trip to St. Peter’s the Rock Junior School in Mombasa, where we toured the school and interacted with the students, who are in the first through third grades. What makes St. Peter’s a challenge for the staff is the fact that both normal and mentally challenged students are among the students attending this school.

Our senior women’s captain Renee Metivier Baillie of Boulder, Colorado, and Cack Ferrell of Eugene, Oregon were the ones who got this trip organized along with the USA Track & Field staff and our local liaisons.

Metivier Baillie, through a non-profit organization in Boulder called One World Running, founded by Mike Sandrock who covers the sport extensively for the Boulder Daily Camera, collected shoes from people in the Colorado city to donate to the kids at the school before Team USA’s trip to Kenya to compete in the IAAF World Country Championships.

Farrell, on the other hand, also collected shoes from teammates and friends from the Oregon Track Club in Eugene to give away to the school before the trip to Mombasa.

Upon arriving in Mombasa, the two asked members of Team USA to donate whatever unneeded shoes to the school; all told, they came up with more than several dozen pairs to give away.

The students at St. Peter’s sang to the team, and also helped give the athletes and staff some lessons in Swahili. The athletes and staff talked individually to the students, and made new friends with their gifts and words of encouragement.

The majority of Team USA was moved by their visit to the school and many described the visit as “eye opening”.

Metivier Baillie described Friday’s school visit as “one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”

The University of Colorado graduate felt that it made a lasting impression on the entire team, from the junior men all the way up to the team staff. “This is my third trip on a world cross country championship team, and by far this is the most inspirational one, even before Saturday’s race. This really makes the trip worthwhile.”

“It’s an honor to be a part of a US world championships team; but to take this trip and be able to do something positive besides running is truly an amazing feeling. This really puts things in perspective, and makes you thankful for what you have.”

Ferrell, a former All-American from Princeton University, who has traveled extensively through Southeast Asia, Central and South America, said that she and her family have always made it a point in their travels to visit schools and donate needed items; in fact, after the World Championships, Ferrell and her parents will continue touring through Kenya.

When we toured the school, we saw two of the dorm rooms. There were five bunk beds in a space roughly 20 x 30 feet. We were told that 15-17 kids sleep in each room; some of the mattresses are stacked on top of each other during the day, and the kids that don’t have a bed sleep on the floor on the mattresses.

This visit to the school really put things in perspective, particularly since I’m in the retail athletic footwear industry. People, especially customers, bitch and moan about the fact that they missed out on getting a pair of the retro Air Jordans; hell, the people I saw Friday were grateful to get a pair of shoes from the national team.

The only regret that I had was that I wished I had been able to gather up some used shoes to donate myself, along with some notebooks, pencils, pens, and other school supplies. Things that we in the United States take for granted are not readily available in many third world countries. I believe that the stat I read was that the average yearly income in Kenya was under $1000.

On the way to and from our beachside waterfront hotel here in Mombasa, we saw some of the poorest sections of the city. It was sad to see what we saw, needless to say. You can watch all the commercials on late night television saying that one dollar a day can help feed a child, but until you see it yourself, you really don’t know what poverty is.

We checked out the course for Saturday’s World Cross Country Championships at the Mombasa Golf Course. It’s a really beautiful course, set near the Indian Ocean. The course is a lot harder than it looks, as the runners will have to run THROUGH some sand traps.

I did have one humorous thing happen to me Friday when I entered my room…I got a phone call asking if I was an athlete and if so, had I been drug tested…oh, well!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Even in Kenya, an iPod Nano comes in handy...

Today, many of the athletes on Team USA did their last hard workout before Saturday’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships here in Mombasa, Kenya. Only problem is that we don’t have access to a track to run intervals, and the trails at Bamburi Park across the street from our hotel aren’t marked for distances.

So what are we supposed to do when athletes want to run 400s or 600s and we don’t have a measuring wheel?

As the media guy here in Mombasa, I got sucked into running a measured distance using my iPod Nano and the Nike+ system on a dirt road in the park. I was told to run 400 meters, then stop and draw a line on the road, then run another 200 meters, stop and draw a line to signify 600 meters.

Sometimes, you gotta take one for the team, even if you’re gasping at 9 am under 90 degree heat and humidity!

More fun and hi-jinks tomorrow from Mombasa!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Running with Craig Virgin...

Arrived in Mombasa late Monday night after a nearly 24-hour voyage that started in Seattle, then to Amsterdam, where we saw snow, then to Nairobi, and finally to Mombasa.

Surprisingly enough, I am adjusted to the time zone, as I slept a little bit on the Seattle/Amsterdam leg, which landed early Monday morning, then stayed up all day for the last two flights.

While the rest of Team USA went through its paces at a local park across from our hotel, I had the opportunity to run with Craig Virgin, a two time world cross country champion, who is here as coach of the US junior men’s team.

Craig and I reminisced on the contemporaries that he raced against during our run. For those who don’t remember Craig, he won an NCAA cross country title at the University of Illinois, made three Olympic teams in the 10000 meters, and was one of the most dominant road racers of the 1980s. He was one of the founding members of Athletics West, the Nike-sponsored track club in the late 1970s, before bolting to go run for adidas.

After our run, he was on the phone talking to Joshua Kimeto, a former Washington State University standout, and one of his main rivals during his collegiate career.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Hanging out in the Amsterdam airport...

Hello all--

Greetings from the airport in Amsterdam, where I have a three-hour layover before heading to Nairobi for the second leg of this trip to Mombasa, Kenya for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships!

Some of the TEAM USA members are making good use of the layover by going for a light run inside the airport...you should see the looks of people as the group runs by them!

I'm also testing my Skype account by making a phone call from my laptop...it works! We'll see how this bad boy works when we get to Kenya.

This is the first of what hopefully is a daily blog from the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa.

We get into Mombasa late today (almost midnight)...should be interesting!

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Where's Alex Harcourt?

Lost in the afterglow of the University of Washington's second straight team title in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation indoor track and field championships on February 23rd-24th was the fact the Huskies won the title without one of their key components, junior 400-meter runner Alex Harcourt.

Harcourt, a junior from Kent, Washington, made headlines a month earlier at the UW Indoor Invitational, where he was responsible for creating one of the loudest roars ever heard in the Dempsey Indoor facility, not to mention one of the biggest upsets, when he ran a Washington school record time of 46.43 seconds to defeat none other than Darold Williamson, the anchorman on Team USA's 4 x 400 meter relay team at the 2004 Athens Olympics, and a former NCAA champion from Baylor University, now running professionally for Nike.

Sure, the Huskies won the 4 x 400 meter relay at the MPSF meet in an NCAA provisional time of 3:09.28. Harcourt most likely would've won the open 400 (it was won in 47.59). And, given the way that Husky coach Greg Metcalf was loading up his athletes at the meet, Harcourt probably would've run the 400m leg on the distance medley relay team that ended up second.

In that DMR (1200-400-800-1600) race, the Huskies could not overcome a superb 1600-meter anchor leg from Cal's Kevin Brown, despite the heroics of NCAA champ Ryan Brown on the 800-meter leg, who ran a 1:46+ split.

It's my understanding from non-UW track sources who know Alex, that the young man may have some off-the-track issues. Additionally, according to folks close to the UW track program, Harcourt repeatedly failed to return phone calls and text messages sent by the coaching staff the week of the meet.

Alex, if you're reading this blog, there's a lot of folks on the Husky track team that want you. You have the opportunity to be one of the greats in Washington track and field history. You can use the momentum and confidence gained by defeating an Olympic gold medalist to do something greater than what you did in late January.

And don't forget, there's a little track meet in late June 2008 just four and a half hours away by car down Interstate 5 known as the US Olympic Track & Field Team Trials, where you can earn a ticket to Beijing.

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