Yale Track and Field Trip Blog

(photo by Robert Harle)

The Yale men's and women's track and field teams traveled abroad for meets at Limerick and Swansea in addition to the traditional Yale-Harvard vs. Oxford-Cambridge meet. Team members blogged about their experiences here.

June 16 – Day 1 – Kate Grace
June 17 – Day 2 – Matthew Bogdan

June 18 – Day 3 – Jenna Poggi
June 19 – Day 4 – Nathan Molina
June 20 – Day 5 – Gabby Kelly
June 21 – Day 6 – Mike Levine
June 22 – Day 7 – Anne Lovelace
June 23 – Day 8 – Johnny Van Deventer
June 24 – Day 9 – Adele Jackson–Gibson
June 25 – Day 10 – Nathan Richards
June 26 – Day 11 – Elizabeth Marvin
June 27 - Day 12 - Michael Pierce

June 28 – Day 13 – Marty Evans
June 29 – Day 14 – Nihal Kayali
June 30 - Day 15 - Dave Shoehalter

Additional Info:

(photo by Robert Harle)  

 

June 30, Day 15: David Shoehalter, Yale's Mark T. Young '68 Director of Cross Country and Track and Field

As I sit in front of my computer, bleary-eyed from two weeks of minding the overseas antics of 23 Yale Track and Field athletes, I can’t help but be proud and satisfied of all that we’ve accomplished in the last fortnight.   

From the day our team was selected on April 16th, I’ve talked to each of them about the meaning and the opportunity that this quadrennial journey provides.   First and foremost, as Track and Field athletes, it means that they have the chance to compete in the oldest ongoing international Track and Field meet in the world.   It is the chance to compete in  the same meet in which Harold Abrahams (Chariots of Fire) and Roger Bannister have etched their names into the record books.   The playing fields are leveled as arguably the four finest Universities in the world get together to fight it on the oval, the runways and the circles as they have for the last 116 years.

But, this trip is about much, much more than competing in a track and field meet.   We do that every weekend from January to June.   This trip is about what Coach Young so eloquently called “cross-pollination”.   Because we’re paired with our arch rivals from Harvard, our athletes and theirs are forced to find the commonalities in each of them and bond as a team.   It never takes long to do so, as Marty Evans said in his blog post earlier.   We coaches always marvel at how quickly the two teams become one.   I liken it to the seventh grade school dance where the boys and girls sit separately on different sides of the room at the beginning of the night, and by the end there’s one big crowd dancing.   Once the ice was broken in Limerick, it was no time before our teams were rooting each other on, singing and carrying on as if they’d always been teammates.   This trip is also about meeting our compatriots from across the pond.   We’re given the opportunity to spend a full week getting to know the teams from Oxford and Cambridge, before the match ever occurs.    And THAT is also what this trip is about.    Lifelong friendships form, memories are made and a cultural exchange takes place that I believe is unique in this current world of college athletics.    Just read the blog entries below.  I’m sure that you get the idea!

Trips such as these don’t happen at the snap of the finger and there is a staggering amount of logistical work that goes into transporting the more than 60 athletes and coaches around Europe so I’d like to send out a very big thank you to all who make this trip possible.  First, to Yale alums Mike Stanley and the late John Cleary and all of the other Yalies, whose vision and generosity in establishing the Giegengack Fund more than ten years ago has allowed us to continue to take the trip in the first place!  Next, to Michael Hayes, of the University of Limerick whose energy and enthusiasm has allowed us to compete on the Emerald Isle for the last four trips.  To James Thie, who organized the large portion of our trip to Wales including an exciting meet in Swansea. 

Perhaps most importantly, I want to personally thank all of the members of the Achilles Club (the combined Oxford and Cambridge team) who continue to support the HY – OC match and organize a trip that our athletes (and coaches!)  will never forget.     John Crosse, the leader of our tour from the UK end, is perhaps the most organized person I’ve met, and his ability to deal with us and all of our various needs with a smile was indeed beyond the call of duty!   Dewi Roberts and Paul Wilcox, both senior Achilles members, bring a joy and enthusiasm to hosting us that are truly second to none, and I look forward to seeing them again when they make the return journey to the US, four years from now.   

Oh yes, the match…Well, the combined HY squad defeated the combined OC squad 32 – 7. But the trip is about so much more than the score of Track and Field meet.   Just read the posts below and you’ll understand.     

 

June 29, Day 14: Nihal Kayali

It’s a bit of a challenge to define when exactly “yesterday” ended and “today” began. As yesterday evening’s banquet came to a close we joined our Harvard compatriots and Oxbridge friends for a night of post-banquet celebration in Cambridge until the eerie glow of dawn signaled to us that our time in the UK was officially coming to an end. Reluctantly, we made the trek back to our dorms to pack our bags and take a quick nap before 6:00AM, when we would load up onto the buses.

This morning, as the team gathered outside of Fitzwilliam College at 6:00AM, groggy but dutifully on time and ready to board the bus to Heathrow, I had the unfortunate experience of being THAT girl. I was, embarrassingly, the person who at 6:00AM, the time very clearly articulated by the coaches for departure under the threat that stragglers will be left behind, was nowhere in sight. Perhaps I was yearning for some exciting material for today’s blog—if that was the case, I’ll give myself a self-congratulatory pat on the back. I can say with confidence, however, that setting a faint watch alarm at 4:30AM for 5:30AM is NOT a foolproof wake-up mechanism.

Needless to say I stared incredulously at my watch when Elizabeth Marvin sprinted into my room at 6:22 yelling, “The bus is leaving!” Paralyzed by embarrassment and panic, it took me a moment before I flung myself out of bed in a frenzy. I’d like to extend my deepest thanks to Elizabeth for throwing all of my belongings into my suitcase and sprinting back to the bus to notify them of my (I’d like to think uncharacteristic) tardiness. I did not have the chance to make sure I (or rather Elizabeth) packed everything as I was too preoccupied with the very real danger of face-planting as I ran down the stairs with my 24-kilo suitcase in tow. Miraculously, in a matter of minutes, I was on the bus ready to go.  I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank Mike Levine for joining me in being THAT guy. Despite me and Mike’s poor showing, we were off in a relatively timely manner. The bus turned silent as everyone drifted back to sleep.

Upon our arrival at Heathrow Airport, it was, inevitably, time for goodbyes. The majority of our squad will not be heading straight home, instead opting to extend the end of the trip by traveling to such places as Paris, Barcelona, and Croatia. I personally do not enjoy, nor am I very good at, saying goodbye. (Ironically I have been assigned the final blog entry—perhaps I should just continue writing until all readers lose interest.) After some hasty hugs and mumblings about how I would continue to stay in touch with everyone via tweets and email, Elizabeth and I headed for the tube station to head into London.

Saying goodbye to my teammates was difficult. But let’s be real—I will know everything they’re doing during the summer thanks to my good friend Facebook. What was harder was coming to terms with the fact that the tour was over. We will have to wait 2 years until our Oxbridge friends come visit us in the US.  And come November and the Big Game, I will still dutifully be cheering against Harvard. But I will be doing this with the understanding that when I walk over to the Harvard side of the stadium, I will have friends there with whom I have shared one of the most incredible experiences of my life. They are friends with whom we continue to maintain a fierce rivalry for the sake of tradition, but that rivalry is tempered by the understanding that our personal friendships supersede any nominal enmity.

 It’s hard to find any adjectives to describe these past two weeks without sounding cheesy and trite, so I’ll leave it up to those who have been following the blog to think of those adjectives themselves. But for now, I’d just like to extend a generic but heartfelt thank-you to everyone who makes this trip possible, notably our coaches who put up with us for the past 2 weeks. It’s been a hell of a trip.

 

June 28, Day 13: Marty Evans

Tuesday arrives at the stroke of midnight and unlike our coach's instructions, I am not asleep.  Reading + Angry Birds ended twenty minutes ago, music doesn't help, and the one drawback of our singles is I don't have a roommate to help clear my mind.  It is now the day of my last track meet.  

Our 8AM breakfast is steadily approaching...and as it does, my potential hours of sleep are dwindling.  I try to set myself at ease by including the hours of sleep I gained by napping the previous day while everyone else toured the campus, but I realize I need to address my thoughts before I have any chance at rest.  So there I lay, in bed, with a gentle breeze crawling through the cracked window as I think about much more than just track ending.  My athletic career, as I had grown to know and embrace it for over 12 years was about to conclude...the same thought was encapsulated in my misty eyes, hidden behind sunglasses, as we seniors celebrated our last warm up the day before.

Flash forward about 9 hours and I'm heading to the track a bit early to "neurally awaken" before our 10AM team meeting.  During the meeting set amidst ubiquitous overcast, Coach Shoehalter urged the combined team to harness the spirit we (Harvard and Yale) showed when we competed against one another in April and did not fail to add "Seniors, this is it."  This meet was important for so many unique reasons, and I behaved accordingly; my unusually reserved composure prompted many to even ask me if I was all right.  Focused was all.  Focused and determined to not put my coaches and my teams' hard work to waste.  This is a meet we had to and I was determined to win.

  Captain-elect Matt and I were both doing our pre-race warm-up when the first drops of rain appeared, ushered by a chorus of thunder.  As most began to seek shelter, the meet continued and HY added more victories to the opening win in the 10K.  The drizzle escalated to rain then near instantaneously became a downpour.  Alarming streaks of lightning prompted the meet officials to indefinitely push back the meet for more than an hour--twice throughout the meet--but in the spirit of the sport, we endured.  Kate excelled as she went on to set a new 800m meet record; Nihal continued to show her promise as she did the same in the 1500m; and Johnny gave us another roller coaster as he finished the mile with a come from behind victory at the finish.  In all but a few events the Bulldog-Cantab duo reined supreme, alleviating the pressure I felt when the last event rolled around.

 As I set up my blocks and removed my sweat pants, an old adage rang true: "in the end you think about the beginning."  Getting in the blocks and leaning forward to await the set command, reels of my first meet came to mind.  My aggressive 4X400 performance led Coach Shoehalter to say "I've found my first leg."  And alas, 3 years, 6 months, 3 weeks, and 6 days later I was in that all too familiar territory: looking down, teetering on my finger tips, cold metal in hand.  The rondo of "To your marks...set...pow!" was more a commencement to me than any round of Pomp and Circumstance has ever been and with that I commenced my last roundabout.  I ran as fluid a race as possible, which wasn't particularly easy considering we had run the 4X1 just about 15 minutes sooner.  The lead I created was not just preserved but also expanded, so the race concluded as the meet did: with a commanding victory.  "That's my last one," I echoed after the race.

Amid our coaches' praise and with a "2011" chant to celebrate the departing class, we all left and scattered to change from our drenched clothes in preparation for the banquet.  Name cards marked our seats and intricately twisted bow-ties marked our Cambridge compatriots.  Speeches, toasts, and awards were given as we formally celebrated the piece of history to which we had been contributing for the past few weeks.  We zealously applauded the outstanding performances of the day and the HY team was congratulated for our Match victory.

Although the trophy halves the captains received were quite nice, it pales in comparison to what we all are able to take home.  We met and trained with our Crimson foes in the name of competition and traveled to compete against athletes we had never before seen.  In turn, our common love for the sport showed us how much more we have in common and formed bonds spanning both the seas and age-old rivalries.  And with this epiphany, my day concluded not with sadness and uncertainty at the conclusion of my career but mere elation at having been blessed with the opportunity to do it all.

June 27, Day 12: Michael Pierce

It is hard to believe that our tour here in the U.K. is approaching its conclusion. Tomorrow our extended team will suit up against our English compatriots and look to leave our own impressions upon this historic series.

While it pains me that I will not be competing, the result of a foot injury incurred during our first competition in Limerick, I am excited about our team and what we are capable of doing tomorrow.

In preparation for tomorrow's meet, activities for the day remained tame.

After a light early morning practice we met our Cambridge hosts around midday to make plans. While they were more than accommodating in their offers to take us punting and show us around, soaring temperatures dampened most ambitions. We ended up spending most of the afternoon sitting in the shade along the canal in the beautiful courtyard of St. John's College.  After a brief tour of Kings and Trinity Colleges, we returned to our rooms.  Once back in my bed, the constant temptation to see all there is to see and do all there is do finally caught up to me as I ended up napping well into the evening.

Along with the great anticipation that accompanies any meet, especially one as prestigious and hyped as HYOC, the reality of our imminent departure is saddening. The past two weeks have been surreal. The hospitality we have encountered and accommodations we have been granted have made this trip something truly special. I will carry my experiences and memories from this tour with me long after our plane touches back down in New York.

 

June 26, Day 11: Elizabeth Marvin

It was sad to say goodbye to Oxford this morning.  We all woke up with sore legs from our extensive walking in London to eat a quick breakfast and load the bus for Cambridge.  Our Oxford hosts said goodbye and told us how excited they are for the match this Tuesday.  They emphasized what a tough competition it will be, but even more importantly that we bring more “kit” to trade with them.

It has been sunny and warm out all day.  Unfortunately we had to spend a few hours cooped up traveling in a bus but I think it may have been a blessing in disguise for our tired and sore legs.  Every day we seem to discover new muscles that are used more for walking rather than running.  Massages from our trainer Daphne are becoming more popular!

Around noon we arrived in Cambridge and were immediately impressed by the extensive gardens and beautiful courtyards.  Our accommodations are in Fitzwilliam College.  All the rooms are singles and contain a sink.  Each hallway has a common area, which consists of a sink, two showers, a bathroom and a tub. 

Our hosts supplied us with lunch in Fitzwilliam College dining hall.  Yes, we are back to the dining halls!  I think we all feel more at home now.  The dining hall was nicely set with signs reserving tables for the “Hardvard and Yale Tour.”  Clearly we are the more respected school; they know how to spell our name.

Practice this afternoon was hot!  Sunscreen was emerging from everyone’s bag for the first time all trip. 

After dinner in Fitzwilliam College, we walked through town to the Hawks Club.  As we made our way to town, the old quaint brick buildings of Cambridge impressed us all.  It was an honor to be invited to spend time in the Hawks Club, which is composed of male members who have participated in a varsity athletic competition between Oxford and Cambridge.

The Cambridge athletes in Hawks Club were all eager to meet us and show us around campus.  We ended up enjoying the evening punting!  A group of us rented out punts and explored campus by water.  The sights were incredible and the colleges here cannot even compare to those at Yale…it may be hard to go back home.

Before heading back to our rooms, we stopped for some Magnum bars along the way.  Ice cream is always a good pre-race fuel (we like to think.)  Everyone is now back in Fitzwilliam courtyard playing games.  Harvard and Yale teams bonding…yay!  So as I sit here in my (lonely) dorm room and hear chants outside, I will definitely say that the coaches were right…the trip just keeps getting better with each stop! 

Now I’m off to join the fun…

 

June 25, Day 10: Nathan Richards

Today was our third day in Oxford and, as we had the day off from any official team practice, most of us took the opportunity to travel into London and do some sightseeing. After a morning run through the English countryside, we ate breakfast and were headed to the see the capital.

The hour train ride provided time to make up for the lost sleep from last night’s adventures with the Oxford team.  After waking up in Paddington station we split into groups headed to different parts of London.  Mine landed on the bus tour as the best way to see the city
and headed off on our excursion through the city. Doing as little walking as possible was key and hopefully we saved our legs for the upcoming meet. We hit the traditional tourist spots: Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the London Tower and the Eye.  This has been my first trip to the U.K. and on the bus around the city it dawned on me that we are in the final leg of our three-country tour.  After so much build-up in the past month it is amazing to finally be here traveling and competing.

There was so much to see on the tours that we became a little overwhelmed and had to stop to recuperate at a traditional English diner called McDonalds outside Trafalgar Square. Once rested we returned to being touristy Americans and took a boat ride down the Thames.

The Yale-Harvard invasion of London was impressive in that we seemed to run into our other groups wherever we went.  In the Royal Parks, tourist traps, and museums, the team divided and in a combined effort we captured London in a day.  Tomorrow we head to Cambridge and start our quest to capture a victory over a combined Oxbridge team.

 

June 24, Day 9: Adele Jackson-Gibson

Sick (in the bad sense).

I woke up this morning with a congested nose and a heavy head. Not enough groans could explain the fatigue, and my eyes felt puffy as if stuffed with lead. Nevertheless, I trudged to the inn’s restaurant to spread jam on my 8am toast and gulped it down with caffeinated tea. Then, it was back to bed before 10am practice with Judge Judy on the tube to keep me awake.

Clear was the day and warm was the sun this morning in Oxford—a beautiful day to be at the track. The gears in my brain started to turn as my body worked its way through warm up. And after a few sprints and jumps in the sand pit, I felt just about ready to explore the city, sniffles and all.

I returned to downtown Oxford at the heart of the University and all its grandeur and finesse. Upon arriving I started to get a stomachache (perhaps from the sandwich I ate). There I met with the team and our Oxford hosts. Together we left to go punt.

What is punting? Well I was not sure what I was in for until our host, Dan, led us to a river dock full of small boats. Emily, Nathan, Dan, and I shipped off on the lazy green river surrounded by sighing green trees.

Sick, I thought.

This is quite like the gondolas in Veniceminus the Italian serenades and dirty pigeons of course.

How relaxing it was. But what was more exciting was steering the boat with the large pole. We each got a go, and we found standing and balancing atop the boat quite difficult, as our pole vaulter, Emily, could attest to: she stood on top of the boat as her pole lodged itself into the sand. Unable to get it out she flailed to hang onto it and splashed into the green. Good thing Emily has a good sense of humor because we all had a good laugh out of it—pictures too. And for the time being I forgot about my stomach pains and focused on the ones cramping my abs from the laughter. So we made an early return so Em could fetch some new clothes.

Rather suddenly, I felt gripping pains in my intestines as we continued our tour of Oxford. The sky began to express my sentiments as clouds masked the sun and cried the tears that I was too embarrassed to shed. But I decided to carry on clutching my purse in my left hand and a newly purchased box of Tums in my right—When will I ever be here again?

I, for one, am glad I did not go back to the hotel room, because I had an awesome time at a wonderful Indian restaurant with the distance girls. Now at this point, food and my stomach were at war with each other, but all I needed from that table was a large cup of tea and pleasant conversation to keep me at peace.  Instead the stomach gurgles turned into bubbly giggles; the distance girls are quite quirky.

As the English would say, ”it was a lovely evening.” And as I sit here writing this journal, I realize that my day was a lot like the word “sick”. Originally meaning “ill”, in certain contexts it shifts its face, becomes the expression of utter amazement. One forgets that it is associated with anything unpleasant.  I felt myself bouncing back and forth between these two meanings, but something ultimately stuck: It's this sport that helps me forget all my suffering; it's my wonderful teammates and coaches, this beautiful environment . . .and just how they lift me out of my original stupor. I rip the word from its original roots: This trip is totally sick!

 

June 23, Day 8: Johnny Van Deventer

Cardiff.  Been there, done that, got the trophy.  Now it is time to move our contingent east to conquer England, the land of hope and glory.  First stop, Oxford.

The day began with an early morning post-meet shakeout from our Cardiff hotel and the usual hour wait for our bus to arrive.  Bags are getting heavier as they now bulge with traded gear for the lucky few that were able to beat the gold rush.  Not to mention one or two medals for the even luckier few that beat the Welsh U23 Select team on the track. 

There is no longer a Yale bus and a Harvard bus, just two H/Y buses.  We were not told to mix the buses, it just happened.  And so we eventually boarded the Oxford bound buses in high spirits with a chorus of “nah nah nah nah, hey, hey, hey, H/Y”, a vintage display of camaraderie and team unity.  I am not ready to kiss goodbye to any part of this trip.

We were warmly greeted by our hosts upon our arrival in Oxford and introduced to our plush accommodation for the next few days in the Premier Inn.  Captain Evans could not be more right.  We are treated like royalty.  Our hosts had prepared a carefully calculated itinerary for our stay in Oxford and we are all extremely grateful for the time and energy they have put into making this trip a memorable one.

Most of our group opted for another light shakeout in the afternoon to sweat out the tea and orange juice from the night before.  Quick shower then off to Iffley Road where 25-year-old medical student Roger Bannister became the first man to run the mile in less than four minutes.  It was May 1954 when he broke the barrier that men once believed would never be broken.  Five years earlier, he captained the Oxford-Cambridge Achilles Club to a victory, or “thrashing” as The Times recorded, over Harvard and Yale in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  We haven’t forgotten, Sir Roger. 

The Iffley Road track is no longer cinder. But its sense of history is inescapable.  I remember standing on the same track with my parents four years earlier, as a Yale bound high school senior, speaking with my future coaches and teammates.  In the back of my mind, I knew the four-year cycle would take the H/Y track team back to this spiritual home of mid-distance running for my senior year.  God save the dream. 

We met with the Oxford team at the track and they escorted us to the University Parks for a traditional English picnic for dinner.  Our hosts could not be more friendly or welcoming.   They prepared for us a feast that included hamburgers, pork pies, cocktail sausages, strawberry meringues, jam tarts and other English classics. 

The meal was a golden opportunity for “cross-pollination” and the Americans wasted little time in asking the Brits absurd questions.  Growing up in England, I had been the unfortunate recipient of these questions on this trip until now.  The England versus UK versus GB situation takes the prize for most frequently asked question, yet it was not without good company.  “Johnny, what IS England?  Why do they put butter on the sandwiches?  What is York-“shire” pudding?  What is brown sauce and what are the ingredients?  How can you tell the difference between one way lanes and two way lanes?”

Despite all the absurd questions, I wouldn’t want it any other way.  It is the willingness to learn that makes everyone on this trip such a pleasure to be around.  The post-picnic games offered more cross-pollinating opportunity with a selection of both British and American sports on offer. After a bit of cricket, I jumped in to the (English) football game.  American football and ultimate Frisbee were also being played.

On the walk through the Oxford Campus on our way back to the hotel, the sunlight began to retreat from the walls of the ancient buildings.  I overheard one question directed at an Oxford student: “How do you feel about the Queen and the royal wedding and royalty in general?”  Brace yourselves, Oxford students, and thank you for saving me. 


June 22, Day 7: Anne Lovelace

The beginning crescendo of the theme to "Chariots of Fire" woke me from my nap on the bus ride from Cardiff to Swansea. Johnny Van Deventer had appropriately selected it as the soundtrack to our arrival at the University of Swansea’s oceanside track facilities. This meant the mid-distance and distance runners were treated to gorgeous warm-up and cool-down jogs along a paved waterfront path. Remembering to get out of the way of oncoming pedestrians by staying to the left remains a challenge.

Today’s meet was against the Welsh Under-23 National Team, Welsh Colleges, Swansea University, and the South West England Under-23 Team. The most notable aspect of the meet was undoubtedly the unusual distances of the running races. Along with the regular field events and the 100m, the meet featured a 150m, 300m, 1000m, and 2k steeplechase (the longest event of the day). Fueled by elementary school-esque lunches of juice boxes, apples, and diagonally-sliced sandwiches, everyone was able to overcome strong winds and the challenge of pacing the unfamiliar events. We put up some excellent performances and are bringing home an international win from Wales! I think Matt Bogdan is planning on carrying the trophy around with him everywhere for the rest of the trip. Highlights of the day included Bogdan’s win in the 2k steeplechase and Adele Jackson-Gibson’s victory in the 100m.

Competing against (and trading gear with) the Welsh athletes was an exciting opportunity and I was happy to finally jump over some steeple barriers on this side of the Atlantic. The highlight of the day for me though was probably the bus ride back to Cardiff. As one of the University of Limerick coaches put it last week, this trip is about “cross-pollination” among teams. Although that specific term has become a bit of a joke on the team, I’m beginning to see what he means. Singing '90s pop songs and playing charades on the bus marked the first time I’ve really felt like Yale and Harvard are one team. Just in time for our move to England and preparation for the HY/OC meet!

 

June 21, Day 6: Mike Levine

We were able to explore the city of Cardiff following an early practice today. After taking a bus into the city's center, we found ourselves at Cardiff Castle. Once inside of the castle's outer wall, we explored the keep, living quarters, and the part of the castle that was used as a WWII bomb shelter. From the top of the keep, we were treated to a view of the whole city. This took up most of our time in Cardiff's city center. The rest of our time was spent walking around the city before heading back to our hotel for dinner.

 

June 20, Day 5: Gabby Kelly

After what seems like another endless day of traveling by bus and plane, the entire Yale-Harvard squad has officially made the journey from Limerick, Ireland to Cardiff, Wales, although the same can not be said for the squad’s luggage (luckily it was only Harvard’s!). Today’s difficulties – early morning practice, a late bus to Dublin that led to a very nearly-missed flight to Wales, and having numerous jars of peanut butter (a Women’s team staple) confiscated by airport security were all endured with patience and good humor, as last night’s festivities were well worth today’s somewhat painful traveling.

Yesterday’s meet in Limerick included a variety of Irish athletes hailing from the University of Limerick team as well as the UL Selection Team and, not to be forgotten, Yale’s own Conor Dooney, competing unattached against both his current and former teammates. Many of the athletes competing on the UL teams had, at one time or another, competed for the Irish national team, a fact made clear only as warm-ups were removed revealing the bright green and orange spandex uniforms underneath. The races were incredibly competitive and exciting with closes finishes in the men’s 800m and mile relay as well as numerous athletes clocking PR’s, including Men’s team captain Marty Evans in the 400m and Adele Jackson-Gibson in the long jump.

The post-meet banquet was incredible, which was to be expected as our Limerick hosts have done an outstanding job hosting us from the very beginning of our trip. Dr. Hayes gave us a (very convincing) description of watching Coach Mark Young run when he competed for Harvard-Yale on the transatlantic tour in the 1960’s – “It wasn’t pretty, but boy was he powerful.” There is no doubt after seeing Coach Young’s dance moves last night, that he is a natural athlete.  After all formalities were over and Dr. Hayes snuck in some last-minute recruiting, claiming that since Kate Grace has an Irish surname she should be able to compete for Ireland under the  “grandparent rule”, it was time to “do as the Irish do”. Quite a few dances were had as Ber (otherwise known as “DJ Dublin”) played a mixture of traditional Irish and (contemporary?) music until the early morning hours. It is then that we wished our Irish friends goodbye, made some last minute trades for gear and got ready for the next leg of our tour. 

 

June 19, Day Four: Nathan Molina

Today marked the beginning of the underlying purpose of our trip: to compete.  The first international meet for most, if not all of us, against the University of Limerick Athletic Club/Limerick Selection team, was also our first competitive experience with Crimson uniforms on our side.  At first, we were hesitant to embrace our rivals, as our meeting with the coaches prior to the first event resembled the segregated Congress at a State of the Union speech, but after some great results by Yale and Harvard competitors on the heels of several inspiring performances by the Irish athletes, that camaraderie and trust that teammates share in all sports began to emerge.

After the meet, we were fortunate to hear several prominent figures in Irish collegiate and national athletics speak at a banquet.  They commented on the difficulties that the Limerick Athletic Club and many clubs alike face in funding, managing, and, most importantly, continuing their programs without the help of major university or alumni donations or the other forms of support that we, being some of the most privileged student-athletes in the world, often take for granted.  Finally, former-program-director Mark T. Young ‘68, a similarly iconic figure in the Yale, Ivy League, and U.S.A. track arenas, touched on these themes and emphasized the value and virtuousness of aiding such programs and their athletes, contributing to your community, and thinking of things beyond and larger than yourself.  The meet and the speeches by the Irish program directors and Coach Young are why we came here.

 

June 18, Day Three: Jenna Poggi

 Many people are under the assumption that Ireland, being an English speaking country, does not differ immensely from our own.  But from the moment I stepped off of the plane and onto the bus and took my first ride on the left side of the road, I was struck by the new world in which we had all arrived.  One can read as many books as one wants, watch as many movies as one can, hear other people speak until they run out of words, but one cannot truly understand the marvel of a new country until one throws oneself directly into it.  It’s like that old saying, “I hear and I forget.  I see and I remember.  I do and I understand.”  Which is exactly how it should be -- if it’s all laid out for you in novels and movies, it half murders the mystery!

I wish I could capture what we saw today on camera, but photos unfortunately cannot compare!  The Yale and Harvard teams traveled on a two hour bus ride through intensely green rolling hills filled with sheep and cows to the breathtaking coastline of Ireland -- a place called the Cliffs of Moher.  I urge all of you readers to search this sight on Google.  We all had our cameras out and at the ready, but if anyone was able to take superb pictures, it was Nate-Mo.  He has this unbelievable camera which is one of those need-to-be-developed real-deal film cameras.  He and Stanley were the first to get on their stomachs and crawl army-style to the edge of the sheer cliffs, leaning over the jagged edge, hammering the breathlessness we all felt onto the screens of the cameras.  Harvard and Yale girls lingered back, squealing in fright behind them until we all decided to follow suit.  No matter how scientifically informed we believe ourselves to be, fear and awe never ceases to surprise us all in the face of natural wonders, where the only thing keeping us from the edge of the cliff is the overpowering wind and our own regard.

That “overpowering wind” is nothing to leave out of this blog post!  It was unlike anything any of us had ever experienced.  On the bus ride up, Gabby and I were marveling at how chilly it seemed out there, and we braced ourselves with our windbreakers, but they were no match for the winds we felt immediately upon exiting the bus.  We all huddled together, laughing and yelling into the wind, only to have our voices carried right back into us.  Athletes were leaning into the wind at 45 degree angles and not falling forward.  Adele decided to use her long jump expertise to run and jump with the wind at her back, Amanda sprinted along the grass in preparation for her 100m hurdles race tomorrow.  One of the Harvard girls was blown over by the sheer strength of the wind.

As Emily courageously said, “You only live once!” and a bunch of Yale and Harvard athletes climbed through the fence and tiptoed across the cliff line.  The wind was so intense there too that we often had to crawl or sit down to lower our center of gravity.  Those who did venture along were rewarded with wonderful pictures and discovered a meadow filled with horses.  I think we were all pushed with the sharp thrill of being somewhere new and rare and exciting, pushed towards that free feeling where anything can happen. 

Well, tomorrow is our first meet!  We are of course teaming with Harvard, and we are going to compete against University of Limerick as well as an Irish club team.  Rumor has it that many of the athletes we will be competing against run for the Irish national team!  Should be a fun day!  In order to prepare, many on the Yale women’s team went to the grocery store and bought ingredients for salad and a pasta dinner, which was deeeee-licious, while other women went into the city of Limerick for a nice Italian dinner.  Either way, we should all be fueled and ready for a great day tomorrow!

 

June 17, Day Two: Matthew Bogdan

After our long delayed trip across the pond was finally complete, it was great to finally be able to explore the University of Limerick and the city itself. 

Our morning began with our usual 10am practice, but before that I was up and about on a seemingly endless quest for a cup of coffee.  Although I was still suffering some jetlag, the walk around the university was well worth it.  We're staying in an absolutely gorgeous dormitory village, with everything we could possibly need.  The main portion of the campus is only a 10 minute walk away across the River Shannon.  The two sides are actually connected by the longest pedestrian bridge in Ireland.  The bridge gives you a splendid view of the river and Limerick.  

After finding my coffee, practice was quickly approaching.  While the time and organization of practice was the same, the setting was completely different.  During our warm up run, I had the pleasure of exploring a little bit of the Irish countryside with Nathan Richards, Mike Pierce, Johnny Van Deventer, and that other freshman that's always around.  On our way, we discovered not one, but two!, remnants of castles.  We found out later that one of the castles was actually just a mill, but nonetheless, it was something not usually found while running around New Haven.  Either way, in my mind, it was a castle. 

This afternoon, we watched an under-14 age soccer tournament final.  Johnny was especially excited, as he saw scouts from Juventus, Aston Villa, and Manchester United.  It doesn't take a lot to excite Johnny.  While he and the freshman found the soccer match enthralling, I was more interested in exploring the campus a little more.  I managed to get inside the sports complex and found an absolutely fantastic collection of sports memorabilia.  They even had Usain Bolt's singlet from the 100m final in Beijing!

The evening ended with a barbecue at a pub/student center on campus with some of our hosts from the University of Limerick joining us.  It was great to finally get to meet some of them, and I look forward to the competition on Sunday.  On a night filled with so many highlights, I can say without a doubt, the best memory for me was the coaches dance.  In particular, Coach Young's breakdown in the middle of the dance floor is something I do not think many of us will ever forget.  Cheers to more dances like that. 

 

June 16, Day One: Kate Grace

Twenty-one Yale track and field athletes returned to campus on Tuesday in preparation for the quadrennial England trip.  While scattered across the country --at home, in Vegas, at the NCAA national meet-- we have continued training long past the final Ivy League race, in preparation for this historic event.  Indeed, we were rewarded for our efforts when we showed up to practice at 3:00 on Tuesday, and were turned from pumpkins to princesses (yes, that includes Mike Levine).  It was the first time we had seen the famous Y-emblazoned blazers, which would be our uniform throughout the trip. And yet, while the blazer did wonders for our appearance, the magic apparently did not transfer to our carriage. 

As we prepared for our Wednesday departure, had a last taste of New Haven food, did a few jumps on the heavenly Marriott beds, our fated aircraft carrier suffered a cracked windshield en route to America.  We first heard of the delay when we showed up for the 1:30 bus to JFK, and were told to come back in seven hours. The flight was to now leave at 3:00 AM. 

Even with a much later departure from school, this meant a lot of extra time at the airport. But we are Yalies—always prepared and ready to innovate in times like these.  Emily brought Bananagrams. Coach Young played Sudoku (too easy). And, of course, there was the ultimate fashion challenge: how best/funniest to wear the small scarf that accompanied the women’s blazers.  Currently, Amanda’s “Little House on the Prairie” head cover is tied with Millie’s French sailor neck knot.  Bogdan spent the time musing about all the novelties that awaited him on his first trip across the pond.  His plan: blend in with a (trendy?) Euro faux-hawk, to offset any initial American blunders.

Shoe joked that one reason they get blazers is because a student wearing a jacket is much less likely to slump down on the floor and fall asleep in an airport.  This reasoning worked for a while, but when a man got on the loud speaker at 2:00 AM, telling us that the flight was further delayed until 5:00, all bets were off.  Luckily for our reputation, the stranded passengers of Aer Lingus flight EI 110 were now the only ones in the terminal.  Sleeping in all places and positions was de rigueur. 

I spent some of the time reading through my new Lonely Planet Ireland guidebook.  It tells of the Irish ‘art’ of ‘putting on the poor mouth’—making things out as worse than they are, to gain creditors’ sympathy. It seems Annelies has this one down. Aer Lingus was passing out $10 meal vouchers, as a condolence for the ordeal, and she got not one, but three. Business woman, even at 5 AM. 

Though we thought it might never happen, with the red, rising sun shining through our (not cracked) windows, the plane took off.  Coach D had a window seat. Everyone was happy.

Five minutes later (the amount of time I was actually awake throughout the flight), and we’re here! It is rainy, and green, and just like the Lonely Planet pictures. The University of Limerick coaches met us at the airport, with personalized meet packets and a few words of welcome.  The delay meant we missed many of the day’s planned orientation activities. But we do not need much to get a sense of the excitement surrounding this event. The packet came with a beautifully printed booklet, with a description of each of the events contested, and an overview of all athletes, their events, and personal bests.  While this meet does not have the same history as the Oxford-Cambridge one, running in Limerick has a tradition of its own—competing this weekend will be an honor.

I have heard this ‘hard knock’ city compared to New Haven, but initial observation shows it to be very unique. We are staying at the University of Limerick itself. It is a twenty minute bus ride to the town, and a five minute run to not one, but two, 12th century castles.  There is a river running through campus, and cows in our courtyard. We got in late in the day, and are exhausted from the trip, but there will be a lot of opportunities to explore in the coming days. Also, we have barely met the Harvard team, and already agree—the inside of the dorms here rival the offerings in both Massachusetts and Connecticut.  We have full kitchens and queen beds!



With the pastoral setting, the hospitable nature of everyone we meet, and the friendly encounters with rivals turned teammates, it is hard to imagine how this trip is going to be anything but wonderful. We seemed to have surpassed our greatest obstacle with the plane ride.