So approximately one month ago, I attended a track and field meet at the UW Dempsey stadium, called: The UW Invitational.
It’s a rather special sporting event, seeing so many different yet talented athletes ranging from high school all the way up well into the professional ranks specializing in various events. You have throwers, sprinters, jumpers, and distance runners, all under one roof competing for the title of “fastest,” “longest jumper,” or “best thrower.” What really separates Track and Field from other sports is that you have so many sub-sports competing under one umbrella.
However, the sub-sport that interests me most is the running events. Specifically, it is the “distance” running events (effectively any event starting at 800m and above is called a “distance” event). I was introduced to distance running years ago when my mom often did local runs on the weekends. She wasn’t a competitive runner; she enjoyed just getting out and being with fellow weekend runners and joggers. Being around that kind of community really sparked my interest. Fast forward to middle school; my gym teacher one spring day decided to take us out to the track to test how far we, the students, could go in 20 minutes. That’s where it clicked for me, and I found my own personal joy in the sport. Being on a track seemed much more freeing than in the weight room pushing around weights. Not long after, she made us do a mile time trial, which, to be honest, I don’t remember all that well except for the teacher being somewhat surprised and stating I should join the track team. Naturally, I was intrigued and soon joined. However, it wouldn’t be until halfway through the season that I dedicated myself to the distance team.
Why did it take so long you might ask?
Well, I quickly noticed all of those sub-sports, and wanted to try them all! I tried jumping, sprints (which was a sight to behold. I have no real explosive power, at least needed for a sprinter), throwing, and hurdles. However, my eyes kept going to the distance team and eventually dedicated to that side of the team. Not long after joining, I became their number #1 runner. It just clicked, and from there, things really took off, as I set and maintained a relatively high team ranking throughout middle school, high school, and a bit into college, and eventually became sponsored. I was sponsored for a few years by the local running stores I would work at. Ultimately, I competed in numerous large races, from the USATF Cross Country Championships, where I raced against pros and military runners (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines) to the Boston marathon, where I placed 128th overall.
Now, how does all of this relate to comics and pop culture? Well, would it surprise you how geeky a lot of athletes actually are? We athletes often need to find ways to keep ourselves entertained between all the training and traveling for races! Through running, I found myself engrained in various comics, particularly the Flash. Often seeing his adventures play out over the pages and in movies, seeing many similar “in the moment” actions and reactions (to those in a race) play out. I always respected how many similarities with the character (regardless of incarnation) I had, often mentally picturing him when I raced (the Flashpoint series will always be my favorite).
For a quick recap of the Flash’s history: The Flash first ran onto the scene in 1940, with the first incarnation being Jay Garrick. Interestingly enough, Jay actually was a college kid and remained popular until Barry Allen caught up and took over, ushering in the silver age of comics. Barry’s era is where we see many feats of speed come into play, from altering time to even outrunning Superman (with “The Flash: Rebirth” by Geoff defining the Flash as THE definitive fastest man alive).
Barry couldn’t outrun the next generation despite such impressive feats, with Wally West being officially dubbed the fastest Flash.
Even though Wally West’s first appearance was in 1959 while visiting his uncle’s police lab, he officially took on the title in 1986 (due to Barry dying in Infinite Earth’s in 1985). West is no doubt my favorite incarnation, as not only can he outrun the big bang, but his most significant feat of speed was so impressive that he effectively stitched three separate universes together. All because of a blunder he made to try and save his mother (Flashpoint).
And so, circling back to real-life running ventures-After leaving the college and student-athlete life behind, I joined the Air Force, where I soon became known as “the running guy.” This was primarily because I would run faster than what was required and often run more than needed. However, I quickly learned that much military personnel was equally geeky, to my surprise. During off-hours (when I wasn’t running) or in between jets (I was a mechanic), my shop would often talk about the latest comic book drop or the newest Magic deck that dropped. So, in that regard, the transition from athlete to the military wasn’t that hard. However, once people caught wind of my running hobby, Barry or Wally soon followed as a nickname.
It was great, however, as there were many times I would help fellow Airmen with their runs, as we were all required to pass certain times for our Physical Training (called PT) tests. I would help them with their form, recommend what shoes to wear, and even eat. There were many times when I helped other airmen and then saw them successfully pass their tests. Not long after, I got to help even more by supporting the local middle school and High School by hosting track meets. To be honest, it was a great time when I was in the military, as I got to ultimately give back and see the many years of intense training and experience be used positively.
And now, with being out of the military, I see this type of opportunity spring up again, albeit in a slightly different form. Using the experience gained with athletics, military life, and now geek culture, I hope to inspire that it’s never too late to get up and get active! To begin the final part of this article, I would like to give some insights into getting involved. It doesn’t even matter if it’s running or a different sport altogether.