Total trip miles to date: 14,600
How things change. Back in the day, the UF track was open to all. There were no fences, you could park at the track for free and many used the track for daily jogging. It was a popular place where you could run on the same track while Olympians were doing their workouts. Jimmy Carnes had created an environment that was conducive to fitness, jogging, and community. It was an amazing time.
Fast forward to today. We went to the track and had to find an open gate to get in. The gate was only open because of construction on the track. Most of the time, the track is locked up tight. I guess liability is now the main concern. People are kept out. We were there just 5 minutes and parking control was already there to ticket us. Geez! Times have changed.
When we vaulted here in the 1970’s, the pole vault was right in front of the main stands. For the last few decades, the PV was moved outside the track on the back straight…well away from the stands. In our time, the vault was a main draw at any home meet and especially at the Florida Relays, one of the top track meets in the nation each year. Schools would come down from the North and stay in Gainesville for the week preceding the Relays. There was lots of excitement leading up to the Relays.
When Mike and I walked out to the infield, we could see that they were working on moving the PV back to its front-center spot on the main straight, just across from the huge main grandstands. I stood where the pit was when we vaulted at UF, reliving great memories!
We then drove over to the SWAMP (the UF football stadium) and went inside the Athletic Hall of Fame room to get a picture with our plaques on the wall. UF does the Athletic Hall of Fame inductions right. I’ll never forget it, a huge black-tie dinner with video presentations on each inductee and a short speech by each inductee. It was a very special night, indeed. Mike had been inducted the year before, and his experience was equally wonderful. On that special evening, I sat at the head table with my coach, Jimmy Carnes at my side. He was sick with cancer at the time, and I made sure that my talk was not about the vaulting, but about how important people can shape our lives and change the direction we go. I spoke about Mike Cotton and Coach Jimmy Carnes, and how those two men were the reason I chose UF. Friends for life.
Tomorrow, I head north. I am on the last leg of the trip, the last lap of the race. Less than a week from now I will be back in Grinnell, IA. I know my last blog entry will be a long one as I reflect on what I have learned on this amazing journey. I’ve already started writing it. It’s hard to believe this is almost over. So many special experiences, special people and special places. A journey, indeed.