Duck track fans flock to Fan Fest

Runners came from as far away as Utah to participate in the Community Mile at last Saturday's UO track and field program's Fan Fest at Hayward Field. (TrackTown USA photo)

EUGENE, Ore. – The spring break trip to the Pacific Northwest was already planned for Justin Gipson and his family when a TrackTown USA “tweet” caught his attention.

Gipson, who hails from Kaysville, Utah, a town of about 28,000 people, just 22 miles north of Salt Lake City, was intrigued by a story on the Community Mile, which was part of the Oregon track and field program’s inaugural “Fan Fest” celebration at historic Hayward Field last Saturday.

As a runner, he was used to going the extra mile, so why not go a few hundred extra miles to fulfill a lifelong dream of running in TrackTown USA?

And that’s exactly what he did.

“We drove 12 hours just to run at Hayward Field,” Gipson said. “It was fun, a very nice day for all of

A future long jumper heads down the runway at Hayward Field during last Saturday's Fan Fest. (TrackTown USA photo)

A future long jumper heads down the runway at Hayward Field during last Saturday’s Fan Fest. (TrackTown USA photo)

us. To be able to race here in TrackTown, where so many great track memories have been made, it was pretty nostalgic.”

A total of about 60 runners, of all ages, joined Gipson and his two children to take advantage of the opportunity to run a mile on the track at Hayward Field. Each of the three heats was paced by athletes from the Oregon track and field team.

“I was supposed to run a 9-minute mile, but it went a little fast,” said UO sophomore Maggie Schmaedick, a former standout distance runner at Sheldon High School. “We actually came in at 8:28. What can you say? It’s Hayward magic.”

It was that kind of day.

Besides those who ran in the Community Mile, more than 300 youngsters swarmed Hayward Field to take part in the traditional Run, Jump and Throw Clinic, which was administered by Duck athletes and coaches. The participants were given expert instruction in hurdling, long jumping, relay exchanges and throwing the turbo javelin.

“We don’t get too many opportunities to interact with the kids and our fans,” UO junior middle distance runner Annie Leblanc said. “When there’s a meet, we’re usually focused on our event, so I think it’s really important for us to interact with the people who cheer for us all year long. They support us in so many ways. This is one of the best things we can do to give back to them, and show them that we really appreciate their support.”

Warming up for the relays with members of the UO track and field team (TrackTown USA photo)

Warming up for the relays with members of the UO track and field team (TrackTown USA photo)

The members of the UO track and field team also handed out season tickets, signed autographs on new 2015 team posters, and made themselves available for photographs.

“It was a lot of fun,” said UO sophomore hurdler Devon Allen, who doubles as a wide receiver on the Duck football team.

“It’s nice because you see the fans in the stands, but you don’t get a chance to talk to a lot of them, and a lot of fans really care. They know about you, they know what you do, and it’s cool to see that. I had fun today meeting some kids and parents.”

Added UO sophomore thrower Brittany Mann: “It’s always fun to hang out with the kids and see them laugh and have a good time. That makes it all worth it. I also got to meet a lady just now, and she told me, ‘You called me for season tickets and I just wanted to let you know how much that meant.’ It’s always cool to meet our fans so they’re not just a face in the crowd.”

The idea for the “Fan Fest” evolved as a way to fill the void left by the absence of the Oregon Preview from the UO outdoor track and field schedule this year.

Young fans get their photo taken with UO track and field members. (TrackTown USa photo)

Young fans get their photo taken with UO track and field members. (TrackTown USa photo)

“We always talk about how special we are in Eugene to be among a community of some of the most knowledgeable track fans in the world,” UO head coach Robert Johnson said. “We get a chance to interact with them throughout the year, but it is usually from a distance. This year, because we didn’t have the Oregon Preview, we decided to make the interaction a lot more intimate and we came up with the idea to do the Fan Fest.

“For us to be able to combine the Community Mile and the Run, Jump and Throw Clinic on such a glorious day is absolutely awesome. It has been a great success and the driving factor is the kids. To be able to impact youth at this age is tremendous. And when it’s all over, we’re going to have a barbecue and feed more than 300 of our officials and our team together.”