I Heart The Penn Relays

24 Apr

With the brief and newfound free-time that I’ve been afforded today, you’d think that I would have been lounging on the porch while penning my memoirs and sipping a strawberry splash.  But alas, I do still very much have my mind on sports and sports on my mind.

The annual running of the Penn Relays began this past Thursday and continues through today.  Every track enthusiast, aficionado, past and present track athlete who wasn’t there (jumps up and down, waving hand emphatically) and every track athlete who was there with spikes laced and blocks set was geek’d about this multi-day relay mega event.  Hosted at Franklin Field by the University of Pennsylvania, Penn holds the record for the best attended track event in the U.S.  (well over 50,000 in the span of a day) and is easily the largest and most recognized competition in the states and around the world.

If you’ve never been to or watched coverage of a Penn Relay, trust me when I tell you that the registered participants numbers are just as impressive as the spectator figures.   On average, each year the event sees more than 15,000 participants from high schools, colleges, and track clubs throughout North America (including Canada) and abroad, (most notably Jamaica) competing in more than 300 events over several days.

Because of the origins of the Penn Relay’s which date back to 1895, many people still hold fast to the belief that this historic event popularized the running of relay races.  Some 90 years later, Dr. Heathcliff “Combustible” Huxtable confirmed this widely held sentiment as he was off to the races with his long-time college nemesis Sanford “Tailwind” Turner (arguably one of the funniest Cosby Show episodes eva!).

As a member and a parent of USATF athletes, track and field is in my blood.  Whether it’s Trials, Nationals or Worlds, I’m usually tuned in or checking stats. Penn though, is something a little more special in my opinion.  Although touted as “USA vs. The World at Penn”, this event is more inclusive, having participants of all ages, races, creeds, colors and from all walks of life.  Of course Track & Field royalty are often in attendance, but most times, their celebrity is no more highlighted than any other qualifying participant.  Penn allows those whose heyday has come and gone to get back out in front of a global audience and show the world that they are still alive and kicking, and gives young upstarts a platform to showcase not only their speed and talent, but also their will and determination.

Although as competitive as any sanctioned USATF event, The Penn Relays are easily the “Feel Good” races of the year.  That’s why I love them, and am already making plans for 2011.

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