The Air Force Academy fieldhouse, at four o'clock in the afternoon, is never still. Around a 267m track there are pole vaulters doing runs down the homestretch, distance runners warming up or striding across the turf, sprinters begin with drills on a short stretch of track, and the throwing team is aiming for any spot that I haven't mentioned yet. Sounds like a pretty typical track team right? Well, that's what makes AF special, it's not typical.
The Air Force Academy fieldhouse, at four o'clock in the afternoon, is always a bevy of cadet athletic activity. Because the cadets all have a strict schedule of classes all athletic practices are held in the afternoon. This means every sport is practicing at the same time on generous, but nevertheless limited, athletic facilities (and please, lets not even talk about the complications of allocating the indoor space when there's bad weather). So, AF does a lot of sharing. In addition to track activity, the AF simply wouldn't be complete without your few token cadets doing PFT training, not to mention the hockey team doing strength training, the occasional random team that I've never seen before and can't identify, scattered AF staff, and of course, our beloved coaches keeping it all at a safe level of organized chaos. But before they even get to practice, cadet life is impressive. They wake up, as I mentioned, before some of you readers have finished yesterday's paper due today, and they compete at a VERY high academic level all while participating in military duties and often community service as well. The chaos of the afternoon practice is their release. This is the time they can focus on themselves, on their friendships. Their sport is one of the only instances where they have the liberty to focus on how well they WANT to be at something, not how well they HAVE to be at something. When I walk in thinking I'm facing a 267m ring of pandemonium, many of them are quite literally entering their happy place.
The Air Force Academy fieldhouse, at four o'clock in the afternoon, is never still… until today. At four o'clock the cadets graciously (and maybe thankfully) paused for a moment. They selflessly conceded their own territory for one. That one was me and what they granted me was far more than "lane one" or an open track. What they granted me was their collective support and unwavering encouragement. They gathered and rallied to help me run my last workout before I head over to South Korea for another grand adventure representing the USA at the IAAF World Championships. I want every cadet at the Academy to know that despite many lonely miles and how I can often revel in that solitude, I've never had such a thrill running a workout before. You young people inspire me. You truly sacrifice in ways that you all know I sometimes don't understand. There are days that I leave the fieldhouse wondering if I've trained as hard at my passion as you all train for your duties. You're an incredible encouragement and challenge to me and I left the fieldhouse today motivated by your acceptance of me and fired up by the way you all spur me on.
The Air Force Academy fieldhouse, at four o'clock in the afternoon, will continue to give me headaches on occasion I'm sure, but after today it will also be a special memory as I go into the challenges of the next few weeks and the rest of my career. Thanks.