WYNCOTE >> Lucy MacKenzie wasn’t “perceived” as fast the first time she stepped foot onto a high school track.
In fact, she quickly earned the nickname “potato.”
“You’d think that wouldn’t be a good track nickname,” she laughs, “but as a freshman, I was so shy, and when we came out (for the team), we had to say our names and something about ourselves. I was like ‘hi, I’m Lucy, and my favorite food is potatoes.’
“So now you see this really fast girl sprinting around and everyone’s screaming ‘potato!’”
MacKenzie made varsity her freshman year at Cheltenham and is now a rising junior for the defending District 1-3A Champion Panthers.
“When I was a freshman, I almost didn’t do track because I was scared I wouldn’t be fast enough,” she remembers. “I’m short as anything and you would not think I could sprint,” said the 5-foot-2 MacKenzie, a blur on the track and on the field hockey turf. “I love track, and track at Cheltenham is just such an amazing experience. Everyone is just so unified and I love being able to do this.”
What MacKenzie was doing Saturday was help instruct the kids that came out for Cheltenham’s Seventh Annual Elementary School Track and Field Meet, a two-hour event that had local youths sprinting, jumping and throwing, sampling the sport’s many delights.
And if there’s one thing MacKenzie tried to impress upon the youngsters, she said: “Pretty much that racing is all based on yourself.”
“Track and field is such a primal thing,” said the meet’s organizer, Adam Syty, a coach for the girls indoor and outdoor teams at Cheltenham. “It’s like ‘here’s the line, here’s the starting gun, go.’ It’s a simple sport, you don’t need fancy equipment or all kinds of rules and directions.
“You just try and run as fast as you can to the line. And the beauty of track is that if you came here as a second grader and ran 18 seconds in the 100, you come back as a third grader and say ‘I’m gonna beat that time.’ Even if you don’t win the race, it’s about self improvement, bettering yourself and working hard. And I think those are all great things for everybody.”
The meet has been a huge success, usually drawing in 100 plus kids from the Cheltenham schools and Elkins Park. Kids compete in the long jump, throw a softball to simulate a shot put, sprint the 50, the 100, the 200 and 400, and even chug around the track twice for an 800.
“It’s really fun to see all the little kids. They all get really excited,” said Catherine Kluchinski, a Cheltenham senior who was helping out.
Kluchinski heads to St. Lawrence University in the fall, competing in cross country and later indoor and outdoor track.
“Not a lot of young kids run track. They play soccer or do something like that so this is a good opportunity to get these kids out here and get them excited to come to the middle school and high school and run for us.”
Kluchinski would give out some pointers on form and technique, and also cover the very basics.
“Just running through the line — a lot of them like to stop right when they get there,” Kluchinski says with a smile. “And teaching them about false starts — starting when the gun goes off, not before.”
And at the heart of it…
“How to love the sport,” Kluchinski said, “and have fun.”
Saturday provided perfect weather for the event, dozens of kids running under sunny skies and through a nice, light breeze.
“I’ve seen some kids run faster than some of my kids,” Syty said of his experience at the event over the years, “and it’s just nice to go over to that kid and say ‘hey, great job. This is something you could be really good at. Stick with it.’”
Excitement and smiles filled every event. And the afternoon climaxed with a “miracle mile,” for anyone who wanted to take part.
“It’s just a really great, fun introduction to track and field for the whole community,” Syty said. “Everybody who’s helping out is a volunteer. They might be on the boys or girls track team or a student here, and just trying to spread the word about track.
“It’s showing kids about perseverance, all those good qualities that we love here. We just make sure we’re letting kids know about track and field when they’re young.”
Volunteers like MacKenzie and Kluchinski jumped at the chance to help out Saturday.
“They love the sport,” Syty said, “and they wanna give back to kids because they’ve had such a good experience with it.”