EUGENE, Ore. – TrackTown Tuesday welcomed a slate of accomplished guests for its April show before a crowd of 150 fans at the Downtown Athletic Club. Those in attendance were treated to appearances from UO Running Club member Justin Gallegos, Nike pioneers Jeff Johnson and Nelson Farris, and five Oregon athletes who won national titles at the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships.
The Ducks included 800-meter champion Sabrina Southerland and the triumphant Distance Medley Relay (DMR) team of Jessica Hull (1,200m), Venessa D’Arpino (400m), Susan Ejore (800m) and Lilli Burdon (1,600m).
Oregon’s DMR finished with the fourth-fastest time in collegiate history at 10 minutes, 51.99 seconds. Even though the Ducks weren’t projected to win, they claimed the first women’s DMR championship in program history by .03 seconds over Stanford thanks to a strong final leg by Burdon.
“I made it a little bit dramatic, but everyone did their job well and I was in a good position,” Burdon said. “I pushed the pace and thankfully I closed well. I think we all believed in each other.”
Southerland, a senior graduate transfer from Georgetown, won the NCAA indoor 800m title with a personal best time of 2:01.55. The surprising victory came after failing to make the NCAA Indoor 800m final in three previous trips with the Hoyas.
“It was a liberating experience,” Southerland said. “I was going to nationals every year at Georgetown but never made it to the finals so even just making it to the final this past indoor season was ‘OK I’m in it now I can do this.’ I feel like I’m in a better place now.”
The day after the DMR, Hull notched another NCAA honor with a third-place finish in the women’s 3K at 9:01.96.
“All season long I focused on building momentum; I didn’t even think about the 3K until after (the DMR),” Hull said. “They told us to soak in the DMR because a national championship doesn’t come around every day, so I enjoyed the moment that night and raced the next morning.”
Fans also heard from UO Running Club member Justin Gallegos. A sophomore from California, Gallegos has cerebral palsy. He is working toward breaking two hours at the upcoming Eugene Half Marathon.
Gallegos is also an ambassador with the Nike FlyEase project, which is dedicated to improving the accessibility of running shoes.
“It’s been an experience seeing all the new prototypes, possibilities and impact that this shoe can make,” Gallegos said. “The bigger picture is to design a shoe that provides easy access and is for everyone. What I want to do is put this shoe out there to the public and let it be known.”
Gallegos also expressed his gratitude to John Truax, who helped launch a fund-raising campaign for Gallegos to attend Oregon.
“We’re forever grateful that John stepped in and offered to help fund raise and because of that I’ve been involved with Nike Running and the FlyEase project” he said.
Two of Nike’s original employees, Jeff Johnson and Nelson Ferris, closed the show. They reminisced about the early days of Blue Ribbon Sports, which eventually became Nike, now one of the world’s top companies and most recognized brand names.
They talked about Nike’s commitment to putting athletes first and one of their earliest success stories at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
“We did a great job of communicating who we were, an athletic company serving athletes,” Farris said. “It’s not about the product, it’s about the athletes.”
Johnson, who was Nike’s first official employee, spoke about the importance of trust among the various department heads at the often raucous “buttface” meetings in the formative days of the company.
“What it was in retrospect was no one had any job titles; no one at that table, including Phil Knight,” he said. “It was an exercise of total trust in each other. That was our tribe, we were teammates.”
TrackTown Tuesday will return on May 1.