We were broadcasting the National Scholastic Indoor Track & Field Championships for ESPN from the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y. It was Sunday, March 11, 1990. Though we had known one another for many years as reporter – athlete, the 1990 National Scholastic meet was the first time I found myself working alongside Olympic Marathon gold medal winner Frank Shorter professionally.
During one of the breaks in our coverage we began to discus the news of the day, primarily how the Lithuanian parliament was poised to secede from the Soviet Union, which would mark the first break from Moscow by a Baltic state forcibly annexed in 1940, and be the first independence vote of any kind in the 68 year history of the Soviet state. The questions we, and many others, had was how far would the 1989 revolution extend, how would America play it, and what shape would the world eventually take?
As action picked up once again on the track far below in the cavernous dome, Frank and I turned our attention to the boy’s two mile race.
“Frank, what was your high school best at two miles,” I inquired on air.
“9:38,” he replied, recalling his days at Northfield Mount Hermon Academy in Massachusetts class of `65.
A few minutes later after the race had wound down, an eager faced young man approached our broadcast location from the stands below. Looking up, he tentatively said, “Mr. Shorter?”
Occasionally prickly with his peers, Frank was always at his best with young athletes. And amidst the ensuing conversation it came out that this particular young man had come to the Carrier Dome to watch the meet, because he’d just missed qualifying for the nationals himself.
“I only ran 9:36,” he told Shorter dejectedly, explaining how hard he’d tried to make the standard.
“You know,” Frank replied, “that’s two seconds faster than my high school PR.”
The kid’s eyes opened even wider.
“9:38? You mean I might not be finished yet?”
The world may change, invariably growing smaller. Times may change, invariably getting faster. But the incentives to achieve remain constant, not the least of which is the encouragement from the heroes who have come before.