Participating at a Heps championships is always a memorable experience, even if the outcome is not always something you originally planned. But attending a Heps after you’ve graduated is a different experience. L. Kelsey Armstong, a former All-Ivy Penn sprinter and frequent participant at the Penn Relays, came back to his home track last weekend to attend the meet. I asked him to share his thoughts and feelings about coming back and watching the meet from the stance as an alumnus. This is his story:
Anytime I go back to Franklin Field, it’s like going back home. The lessons I learned in that stadium has helped molded me, not only as an athlete, but also a person. So I had not problem making the trip up from Raleigh, NC to see Franklin Field be the backdrop for the 81st Outdoor Heptagonal Championship.
Even though I was present as an alumnus previously when Penn hosted the outdoor Heps (1997), the stark contrast between the Penn Relays and this meet is striking. First, the crowd is different, where the stadium was generously at 1/10th of capacity, when the Relays is pretty much sold out on the final day. There are also distinct patches of color dotted throughout the stadium: a group of Princeton orange over there, Dartmouth green down there, the Crimson red of Harvard by the finish line. These identifiable colors would erupt and cheer in response to a similarly clad athlete on the field. Lastly, the gaps between races at Heps (which is normal for any conference meet) is unheard of at the Relays, where the key if efficiency and promptness. This gives Heps a slower, almost lazy feel to it.
The sense of ownership I feel on Franklin Field was enormous. This is MY track, MY team, MY university. I almost felt part of the team, where a poor jump by Michael Monroe upset me, a fast time by Tom Timmins thrilled me, and a winning effort from Thomas Awad caused me to yell and cheer loudly. Like the present track and field athletes, I set the goal for Penn to win both championships in “our house”, and coming up short was a disappointment. And to rub salt in my wounds, I had to watch our rival, Princeton win the men’s championship (Congratulations, Coach Samara!). Because of my high expectations and my tendency to turn into “coach mode” at meets, I tried to stay away from my undergraduate “teammates” because the last thing they need is additional pressure from a deluded 40-something year old alumnus.
Not only was the environment familiar, but also the people–the security guards, the former coaches, the current coaches, former teammates, and athletic trainers. I even met our massage therapist who is now working elsewhere. This brought out a sense of nostalgia. But I also saw people who are more familiar to me only by name via my role at Hepstrack. It was a pleasure to see Mary Boggs again, and to put a face to the names of Danielle Barbian, Nadia Eke, Marc-Andre Alexandre and John Hill who I keep reading in different meet results throughout the season.
The visceral emotion generated towards each member of a school is what makes Heps a team sport. I saw a runner sacrifice himself so his teammate could succeed; I saw tears of disappointment at an athlete after not reaching his goal; I saw a coach try to motivate an athlete by telling him how much the team needs him. I have been to several other championships by other conferences, and I have yet to see the same energy, and fire as I do at Heps.
As the meet reached its end with the awards ceremony, I took the opportunity to look around Franklin Field–the scoreboard, the upper bleachers, the dreaded lane 5 guardrail. I felt a sense of personal satisfaction for making the long trip. I hope future alumni have the same connection to Franklin Field, and all Ivy League track and field athletes, past and present, feel enriched by the Heptagonal experience. Only 350 days to go until 2016 Penn Relays!
– L. Kelsey Armstrong