“The Dream of the Blue Oval” by Obsie Birru

The Dream of the Blue Oval when talking about Iowa, many people are unsure of where it is located, at least outside the context of The Drake Relays. For many years The Drake Relays have attracted national attention and has become one of Iowa’s greatest sources of honor and pride. It has become many high schoolers’ and professional athletes’ dream to be able to compete its blue oval. It is known for its great competition and experience. If you have not attended The Drake Relays, you are missing a very special and thrilling experience as the relays have continued to grow and evolve.

My real first experience with The Drake Relays came when I was in middle school. In 7th grade we competed in PE class in order to decide who would become the fastest four runners to represent our school at  The Drake Relays. Let’s just say I didn’t make the cut! I discovered quickly that sprinting was not my expertise. Growing Up in Ethiopia, people lived and breathed running. Runners were considered our countries pride and joy and all the people envied them. As you might know running has been in my blood for a long time, but back then, little did I know what the relays where about and how they could influence my desire to become an inspired runner.

In 8th grade I finally experienced the whole Drake Relays mystic.  I was finally fast enough to go to The Drake Relays! The first thing that stood out was this defiant voice echoing throughout the stadium. I could not put a face to him because he was in a suite box, but his voice made you feel as though anything could be achieve and that any athlete that stepped foot on the track was anything but ordinary. It was as if something exciting was going to happen with every event, and made you think if you were to turn your head you would miss something great. With his exhilarating voice he makes you feel the excitement and you can’t help, but stand up and watch closely at what’s is happening.

As I left the stadium after our middle school relay, I started to dream of being part of the The Drake Relays experience. I couldn’t stop thinking to myself how cool would it be to be one of those athletes, pretending how the announcer would proclaim my name and my story. I was inspired by these elite athletes and maybe someday I could produce the same outcome. As freshman in high school I dreamed of making it to the Drake Relay’s, it was my first major goal. When I accomplished this feat, it was everything I ever thought  it would be and more. Just hearing Mike Jay’s voice saying my name though those speakers made me feel something remarkable that I couldn’t describe with any words imaginable. The roar of the crowed as the jumpers approached their attempt on the run away! You would see the runners soar to new heights as Mike Jay rejuvenated the crow by saying “let’s bring the runners home!” as they reach the homestretch. It gave me a sense of pride and that I could accomplish something spectacular. It  gave me drive to go back year after year and compete to better myself.

Throughout my high school years, I watched my friends and companions become champions on that “Blue Oval”. I competed with great runners such as Betsy or Katie Flood and other great runners like the Waukee girls and as I watched them shine in their victories, I question when and if my day would come. Staring at them with admiration, I dreamed that someday I would get that Drake Relays Champion flag too. Starting my college career at Grand View University, I immediately found success and worked my way up to nationals, but none of those experiences could replace the atmosphere of the Drake Relays. When spring rolled around, I finally got to go back to the blue oval. The welcoming from the crowd, the drum line, and Mike Jay’s voice made me feel right at home. That year I took home 7th place in the 10K and once again I left Drake Stadium with a solemn feeling of not being satisfied with my results. Fueled by my failures of five years and determination I knew I had to work hard to earn that Drake Relays champion flag.

The next year when I returned to Drake I filled my head and my heart with high hopes and determination. The Drake Relays flag stood between me and 33 other competitors from different states around the U.S. None of them knowing how much I envied that flag and what it meant to me as a fellow Iowan. While toeing that line I was praying to God that he would give me the strength to help me to run happy and that he would be with me as I endured this ferocious 10k. That day the six year dream of becoming a Drake champion came true on April 26, 2010. Six years in the making, I was not going to be leaving with the same  unsatisfied feeling.  I wasn’t about to let it happen again.

I can remember every second of that day like it was yesterday. Soon after winning the 10K at Drake that day, everything else seemed to fall in to place. The national titles and many great races came and went, but nothing can compare to how it all started at Drake. Now, as I look back, maybe it was never about that little white flag that made the Drake experience worthwhile. Maybe it was all those people that have seen me run my little heart out in high school, those same people who wanted me so badly to to succeed. Maybe it was all the coaches and the athlete’s that have inspired and pushed me to reach that dream. On that lovely night  there is one thing I will never forget. It was the exchange of smiles between me and my successors/teammates in acknowledgement of the excitement felt by one another. It was the people that have been there for me through my struggles and downfalls and have  helped me regain the determination to succeed. It marked a point in my running career that keeps motivating me to work harder and to get better. This year will be my last year to compete as a collegiate athlete on the blue oval. It will be the last time as a college athlete to hear that familiar voice of mike Jay guiding each stride I take on the track and beyond, hopefully leading me back to the place where some of my wildest dream came true.

I sure hope someday I will be running after my college career and will be invited back to run on that blue oval once a again. After all Drake is the track all Iowa native runners can call home.  I hope to inspire and to join the ranks of those who have inspired me, those I have looked up to for years such as Jenny Beranger’s , Lisa Uhls, LoLo Jones, the Hulihans, the Floods, and  Ashley Milers.  For great runners like these and especially for me, The  Drake Relays  is the place and the stadium we are all proud to call home.

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