At the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Track & Field, my family was taking a break at the fan festival when I suddenly realized we were sitting next to the legendary Frank Shorter, an Olympic gold medalist who was Steve Prefontaine’s training partner. Frank kindly signed my son Eli’s ticket, writing “Good luck with your running, Eli!”
Those words are pinned on my now 15 year-old’s bulletin board, next to bib numbers, race flags, finish line tape and other mementos he’s collected from his own races and track events where he’s participated as an athlete, fan and volunteer.
Growing up in Eugene means also growing up in TrackTown USA - and for kids, there are a lot of ways to get involved with the sport. As our community prepares to welcome the world for the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 this July, introduce your kids to the magic that makes Eugene the heart and home of track and field. Here are a few opportunities to inspire a lifelong love and appreciation for the sport.
A summer tradition since the 1950s, Oregon Track Club’s All Comers Meets are a great way for kids to try out track events in a low-pressure, fun environment. The meets are split over two days so that kids 12 and under can compete separately with their own age groups. In the fall, the OTC youth cross country program keeps kids moving — practices and (optional) races are short and focused on having fun, with the goal always being to keep kids having a good time.
If you’re new to the sport yourself, learn about the history of track and field in this area together with your kids. Celebrate the upcoming World Athletics Championships Oregon22 with Making Tracks, a collection of resources and activities that explore the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 with youth. Use the “getting started” guide to help guide you through the activity library, where topics cover everything from track and field history (try the virtual scavenger hunt of the Museum of World Athletics) to an overview of track and field events to the logistics of putting on a large-scale event.
The Oregon22 Heritage Trail celebrates 22 track and field athletes from Oregon who have medaled in an international competition. Read through their biographies and look for their commemorative plaques on a road trip around Oregon. Ten of the plaques are hosted right here in Eugene-Springfield. You can also access history at Hayward Hall, an interactive museum that extends along the east side of Hayward Field at the University of Oregon. Here you’ll see a replica of Bill Bowerman’s legendary shoe workshop along with history of the University of Oregon’s track and field program told through interactive displays and short films.
Our local museums are celebrating this incredible year for track and field in Oregon. At the Museum of Natural and Cultural History, you’ll find a different kind of track and field competition: the animal kingdom! Learn which animals would dominate different track and field events and explore TrackTown culture and individual fitness.
If your kids love the idea of racing, many of our big road races offer short, fun kids’ races in tandem with a longer run for adults. There are also plenty of themed road races throughout the year like a Monster Mash at Halloween and turkey trots Thanksgiving weekend. Some kids love the idea of a road race while others may need time to warm up to the idea, so make sure to always meet your kids where they are and keep it fun.
Track and field is one of the most approachable, inclusive, supportive and fun sports for kids. It’s often a no-cut sport in schools, and welcomes kids of all abilities who have goals ranging from wanting to run fast to simply wanting to be a part of a group. Our local running clubs offer chances to engage as an athlete, a fan or a volunteer. How lucky we are to raise our kids in TrackTown USA!