BY ADAM ROGAN
There are two different sides to adult athletes’ competitions at the Drake Relays. Most post-college participants are professionals, many of them former Olympians looking to return to the world’s stage in Rio de Janeiro this summer or profitable victories with the Drake Relays’ lucrative prize purses in elite events. Although, not every event or competitor is focused on such concrete rewards.
This year, Drake Relays tried something new with the introduction of the first-ever world class 4×110 coed shuttle hurdle relay, pitting some of the world’s best hurdler – male and female – against each other in a one-of-a-kind race.
The event featured four teams running in two, head-to-head heats. Olympic hopefuls Spencer Adams and Eddie Lovett ran for “Team Blue” with Kristi Castlin and Nia Ali and won the event in 54.42, a time that is technically a world record considering the race was the first of its kind.
“It’s fun that Drake even had the idea to put this on,” Adams said. “In hurdles we don’t even have a relay, so anytime we get a chance to come together and run something a little bit differently – whether it be coed or regular shuttle hurdle relay – we always want to jump at that opportunity.”
The teams didn’t even have the chance to practice for the event, but that didn’t shake them. They’re professionals and mainly used the race as a semi-competitive, enjoyable way to prep for their primary events coming up on Saturday’s slate.
“We had fun and we got it done,” Lovett said. “It’s a warmup to get my legs loose … I was able to get out and run pretty decent today (and) I feel like I can do it tomorrow.”
They clearly had fun, the foursome laughing and chanting “We won!” while joyfully dancing around and hugging one another after the second heat concluded and their winning time was confirmed.
Not every post-college athlete is of Olympic caliber, however, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t trying their best, having fun or preparing for the future.
The masters 800-meters is an event held exclusively for competitors who are at least 40-years-old. Many of the participants were collegiate runners who now simply enjoying running, competing and staying in shape.
Joey Keillor won this year’s race with a time of 2:03.20, although his focus wasn’t particularly on winning the competition.
Keillor competed in the Drake Relays in his college days at Mankato State, a Division-II school in southern Minnesota where he was a national champion in the steeplechase. But that was more than 20 years ago, and fans don’t tend to pour in to watch the local races he still participates in.
“After college, pretty much nobody cares,” Keillor said. “And that’s fine, that’s the way it goes. Then you get to masters and people care even less.”
“You think my kids want to come down and watch? Heck no, they don’t want to come down and watch their old man run. So it’s super meaningful to be out there with people in the stands … That’s kind of cool to have, everybody yelling your name.”
Keillor says that the main reason he keeps running is to stay in shape while he can, knowing that age may soon take a toll on his body.
“It’s going to go away in probably the next three to ten years, then I’m just not going to be able to do it anymore,” Keillor said. “You’re healthy, not everybody’s healthy (and) you’re able to do it. You got to keep doing it while the opportunity is there, just like anything else.”
Now, Keillor writes for a health publication, again focusing on the overall health of individuals rather than personal return or growth. He’s practicing what he preaches, in a lot of ways.
Regardless of why athletes choose to compete, their efforts are still welcomed and appreciated by the fans who filled Drake Stadium on Saturday afternoon and evening, largely unaffected by whether the race was an Olympic preview or an amateur long-distance run around the Blue Oval.
“We had fun and we got it done,” Lovett said, “so just happy for that.”