03/11/17

On Your Mark

Words: Natalee Ranii-Dropcho

Images: Natalee Ranii-Dropcho

If you’ve ever been to Newburgh, New York, it doesn’t take long for the contradictions to kick in. Once an encampment for George Washington’s Continental Army, the thriving industrial centre of the Gilded Age and a canvas for pioneering architects such as Andrew Jackson Downing, Newburgh draws contemporary headlines that believe its history: high crime rates, prevalent poverty and long-vacated buildings. But ash wouldn’t exist without fire, and a closer look at the embers reveals a story untold. There’s the Newburgh Community Land Bank, whose rehabilitation of abandoned sites—Newburgh has the highest concentration of historic properties in any New York district—works to grow the city’s vibrant communities. There’s the burgeoning group of young artists with roots as far as California creating and performing in Atlas Studios, the historic industrial factory turned into workspaces. But perhaps the brightest flame can be found at the 10th oldest public high school in the United States: the Newburgh Free Academy track and field team. If you can catch them, that is.

On a field of green turf and red rubber, the team’s runners lace up their cleats for the last practice of summer. The start of the season is weeks away, but suited up in Outdoor Voices, the Goldbacks are here to focus. Sure, they still sneak the occasional Big Mac, groan at the thought of push-ups and joke like the teenagers they are, but when their fingers touch the starting line, they’re not playing. When you’re an athlete dedicated to a sport that’s 90% mental, it’s not enough to be the fastest.

As Head Coach Malcolm Burks says, “You don’t always win. And you shouldn’t always lose. Who am I to say you won or lost ’cause you ran a certain time or jumped a certain distance or scored the most points? The goal is to win in life, not just that day.” And he expects to win big: 98% of his athletes go to college after graduation. Anyone with a body can run, but when you maintain a minimum 3.45 GPA and have 10 national titles to your legacy, you’re not just a track star, you’re from Newburgh. And as the four team members who spoke to Good Sport know, the future of your city is along for the race.

Coach Malcom Burks
NFA Class of 1979
29 State Titles, 10 National Championships
Biggest Achievement: Seeing 98% of his athletes go to college

What sets Track & Field apart from other sports?

Your biggest challenge is you. It’s not the track. Time’s always gonna tick. It’s you just trying to do better each time, and in reality you can’t beat time, so you just have to keep challenging yourself to do the best you can within the time you have.

What do you think is more valuable: a win or a loss?

I’d say the lesson learned between the two of them; that’s what I really believe. The lesson learned between winning and losing. Because you don’t always win. And you shouldn’t always lose. And I can tell you this: nobody, at the end of the day – I don’t care what an athlete says – nobody likes to lose. I’ve learned to never quit. Never give up on an individual. Because winning is in the eyes of them. It’s not in your eyes whether they won or lost. Who am I to say you won or lost cause you ran a certain time or jumped a certain distance or scored the most points. Is that winning? Maybe in the books, but what about life? The goal is to win in life, not just that day. So, there’s lesson in winning and losing; in both you need to be humble.

Don’t be afraid to try something new. Don’t be afraid! And it’s easier to lead than it is to follow.

What is one thing you want your athletes to remember after they graduate?

Don’t be afraid to try something new. Don’t be afraid! And it’s easier to lead than it is to follow. Even if you make mistakes, it’s better than putting your destiny in someone else’s hand. It’s gonna really screw things up for you. When you get the opportunities, be a leader and have fun while you’re doing it. What’s the worst that could happen to you when you try something new? Enjoy life!

Elizabeth “Liza” Licameli
NFA Class of 2019
4x100m Relay, 4x200m Relay, 4x400m Relay, Open 200m, Open 400m, Long Jump, Triple Jump
Dreams of: making it to the Olympics and becoming a corporate lawyer

Why did you start running competitively?

I wanted to run because my uncle was a football player and he always ran and was so athletic… when he passed away a couple years ago that encouraged me to go to the Olympics. I’m doing it for him, and me.

How do you focus on the track if other parts of your life are out of sync?

It helps when you have a really good team, a foundation. When you have a good connection with somebody they understand what you’re going through… so if you are going through something, you talk it out. Sometimes it just takes that one person and your day can turn around. We’re like a family.

What is the most valuable lesson track has taught you?

You’re running against yourself. People think it’s just a race; it’s not just about beating that other person. You want to beat your personal record and do your best. Because at the end of the day, even if you don’t come in first place but you put all you have on that table, you did what you had to do.

What advice would you give someone who wants to start running?

If you have a negative mindset before you even get on the track, you’ve lost the race. ‘Cause you’re not telling your body you can do this. Kids run really fast and we’re moving up in our ranks. We run with Juniors and Seniors now… just because we’re younger doesn’t mean that we’re slower.

If you have a negative mindset before you even get on the track, you’ve lost the race.

Ryler Allen Gould
NFA Class of 2020
400m Dash, 400m Hurdles, 55m Hurdles, 110m Hurdles
Dreams of: becoming a graphic designer

The last thing I do on the line is take a deep breath, close my eyes, let everything get out of my mind before the race starts.

Why did you start running competitively?

When I was little, I used to run a lot… and then I had this major foot surgery, and I couldn’t run at all — or walk for that matter. I told my mom when I can walk again, I’m going to try and run track. I’ve been running for three years now, from 7th to 9th grade. That’s why I smile a whole lot whenever I run, because I might not have had a chance to run again.

Do you have any routines or rituals you do to prepare?

The last thing I do on the line is take a deep breath, close my eyes, let everything get out of my mind before the race starts. You’ll see other teams doing rituals with the baton, little dances and stuff. We all just try to calm and motivate ourselves in that moment. This is business, so when we come to the meet, we’re not joking around. Once we’re on the line and ready to run, we’re focused. You might get a ‘good luck’, a slap on the chest, but that’s it. No games.

How do you deal with loss?

You have to support each other. If somebody’s really down, you let them know that it’s okay you made a mistake and you have other chances… you’ll get the next one.

What has been your biggest challenge that you’ve found a way to overcome?

When I first joined track I was super shy, like I wouldn’t talk to anyone. [My team] helped me talk and get through what I needed to do. Now once I meet you I will not stop talking.

Marielle Apronti
NFA Class of 2017
100m Dash, 4×100 Relay, 4×400 Relay
Dreams of: owning a bakery

Why did you start running competitively?

I remember watching the 2012 Olympics. When the track runners walked out I was like, “Wow, they look like me!” All my life, I was really… built. I was always the muscular girl. And that same year my older brother started running track. So I used to come to the outdoor meets, and I’d see Coach Burks, and how happy everyone was — like when you accomplish something big. All my life I was like the fastest girl in school, whenever we had relays everyone picked me first. So I said, “This is something I want to do.”

How do you focus on the track if other parts of your life are out of sync?

This is work. When you go to work you don’t let your personal life take over. When you get on the track, no one cares what was going on in your house, no one cares what you were doing in your day — if you ate breakfast, if you slept in late. You came here to run so you do what you have to do.

What has been your biggest challenge that you’ve found a way to overcome?

It took a long time for me to believe in myself. Sometimes you might see a girl who runs a good time and before you run you’re already thinking that she might beat you. But you have to have confidence that you’re where you’re supposed to be. Coach is someone who believed in all of us even when we didn’t see something in ourselves; he saw it in us. And when you’re able to see it yourself — that’s everything.

What does Track & Field mean to you?

It’s a sport within yourself, a constant battle. No days off.

Brendon Hanson
NFA Class of 2017
100m, 200m, 300m, and 400m relays
Dreams of: being an entrepreneur

What does Track & Field mean to you?

When you run, nothing else matters except you and the track. And possibly, your competitors. I use it as a stress reliever. So, if anything does happen I know that I can come to track and none of that matters.

What has been your biggest challenge that you’ve found a way to overcome?

My pride, because I used to think I ran my race how I ran my race, and nobody could tell me different. I’m not fast naturally; maybe I should eat my rice with stewed peas and I’d get faster. But after awhile I realised that’s not working… so I’d have to shut my mouth and ask for help. My teammates came to my rescue, they told me how to run better, how to control my breathing. Anything I asked for, they gave it to me.

What advice would you give someone who wants to start running?

If you have two legs and you can breathe, you can run. I’m just saying… you can eat, you can take nutrients in, you can use the energy the food gives you, you can definitely do a sport. Just don’t run in LeBrons.

What does the Track Team represent for the city of Newburgh?

There’s still positivity in this city… track can bring it back to its glory days.

When you run, nothing else matters except you and the track.

You can catch the Newburgh Free Academy Track team at the next Outdoor Voices Joggers Club on November 9th in New York. The team will lead a recreational run through Central Park, followed by a bite at OV’s Upper East Side shop. For all purchases made in-store the night of the event, Outdoor Voices will donate 20% to the team in support of their Fall 2017 season. RSVP here: events.outdoorvoices.com.