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Event is no walk in the park

by: JIM CLARK, Track athletes (from left) Jeremy Bahr-Worley, Kristen Hamman, Amanda Davis and Shawn Magee took up racewalking to help Concordia score more points at the NAIA track and field meet.

Watching four Concordia University athletes do their thing, one thinks of Fats Domino and his fun, happy-go-lucky song from the '50s.

'I'm walkin', yes indeed, I'm talkin', 'bout you and me, I'm hopin', that you come back to me …'

Racewalking is an odd-looking sport. But the waddling form doesn't stop Jeremy Bahr-Worley, Shawn Magee, Amanda Davis and Kristen Hamman, who have picked up the sport to try to help the Cavaliers score more points at the NAIA track and field meet.

More NAIA teams are converting runners into racewalkers - the NCAA doesn't feature racewalking. In the Northwest, Concordia, which has been building its track and field program to national prominence, especially in the throws, has led the way.

Bahr-Worley finished ninth and Magee 11th in the 5,000-meter race at nationals last spring and have high aspirations for the NAIA meet May 22 through May 24 in St. Louis.

Magee, along with the two women, still has to qualify for nationals, but the time standards appear very doable. All four will take part in the qualifying Pacific Northwest Track and Field Master's Racewalk April 26 in Seattle.

In racewalking, a competitor cannot have both feet off the ground at the same time and cannot bend the advancing leg as it hits the ground till it is vertical. Three violations of either, and the competitor is disqualified.

Magee and Bahr-Worley, fledgling runners, turned to racewalking in January 2007. Under the guidance of assistant coach Pete Stolpe, they quickly developed their form - Magee gets his shoulders into it with a more distinct push off; Bahr-Worley walks more stiff-legged with a quicker turnover.

'The form is completely different than running,' says Bahr-Worley, a sophomore from Lake Tahoe, Nev. 'In running, you push off the track. In walking, you're pulling with your hamstring. It used to feel really weird, but now we do it seven days a week. I run only on occasion now.'

Magee, a sophomore from Albany, says: 'After a couple weeks, we got legal form and didn't have to think about it. You have to go slow, and then faster and faster.'

They increased to about a 9-minute-mile pace.

Two weeks before the recent USATF World Cup Racewalk in Eugene, Magee was walking by Concordia and caught his toe on a piece of concrete. He bent his leg, tearing a minor knee ligament. 'I tried to come back too soon,' he says of dropping out after 12 kilometers in Eugene.

Davis, a sophomore from Mt. Angel, suffered shin splints last season as she made the switch from running on the track.

'I wasn't sure I would like it. Looked hard,' she says, of racewalking. 'My shins were sore every day at practice. This year, I've flowed into it.'

Hamman, a sophomore from Ontario, says that, like the others, she wasn't getting great times in other track and field events. Head coach Randy Dalzell asked if she would be interested in racewalking this season.

'(Dalzell) says it was much easier on your body,' says Hamman, who started two weeks ago. 'But doing intervals, I feel like sprinting at the end.'

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Smith has marathon in sight

Like the racewalkers, Matt Smith also is taking one for the team.

Smith, a 2006 Jesuit High grad, has taken up the marathon in his quest to help Concordia score more points at the NAIA national meet.

The one problem is Smith, a sophomore, hasn't qualified yet. He tried at the recent half-marathon Run for the Roses, but a sore foot slowed him down and he ran 1 hour, 28 minutes, or about 11 minutes off the 'B' national qualifying mark and 13 minutes off the 'A.'

'It would have been under a three-hour marathon' at that pace, he says. 'And it would have been quicker if not for my foot.'

He hopes to enter another half-marathon - the distance is a qualifier for the full, 26.2-mile national marathon - before the Cascade Conference meet May 8 at Mt. Hood Community College. At conference, he'll run the steeplechase or 10-kilometer race.

Only the NAIA, and not the NCAA, provides the marathon at the national meet.

'And not a lot of teams focus on the marathon,' says Smith, who spends idle time coaching track and field middle-schoolers at Crossroads Christian School. 'It's an easy way to grab points. And longer distances are my strength.'

It would be Smith's first marathon. 'As long as I keep my calm and nerves, I think I can do well,' he adds. 'I've been able to run six minutes (pace) in practice runs, and I've gone up to 20 miles. The hardest part of training is telling myself to slow down. My body is used to running at a quicker pace.'

Smith ran at Jesuit, finishing as the Metro League's top freshman and JV runner in his first two years. He helped the Crusaders win state and finish sixth at Nike Team Nationals in 2004 and continued as a top Metro League runner in 2005.

Dylan Zitzer also runs marathon for Concordia; he has yet to qualify for nationals.

Smith has been rehabilitating his foot, icing it and massaging it with a tennis ball. Now all he needs is another chance to make nationals.

- Jason Vondersmith