‘If you build it, they will run’

‘If you build it, they will run’

If attending a City Council or School Board meeting, theres a good chance youll see the goateed face of Gary Carr and theres an even better chance that hes asking for something. If he is speaking eloquently and expertly on the subject, its because hes been there before. Many times before.

For several years Carr has been looking out his office window at Francis Hammond middle school, where every time it rains the running area floods and becomes inaccessible. He has spoken at and attended myriad public meetings, hoping to get a new track, but was met with little action. 

The lack of action I got from going to meetings kind of made me want to do it more, but at the same time I thought, You cant fight City Hall, Carr says. Then Id look out my work window on a rainy day and Id go back and get fired up again.

Time passed and Carr saw the city spend money on a gleaming new turf field at Minnie Howard school, but with no track. T.C. Williams eventually received a new track with its new building, and for a while Carr let it go. 

But he just couldnt let it go. Every time it rained, kids were left without an exercise outlet.

For several years the only tracks in the city existed at private schools. A generation of kids went without a public, sufficient place to exercise in a city and country with a staggering obesity rate 24 percent of Alexandrias 6-to-10-year-olds. This was unacceptable to Carr.

But why? Whats in it for him?

He is not a fanatical runner. His daughter will never attend Hammond.

My perspective is that kids arent getting enough exercise, simple as that, he said. But academics are also important. So how do you balance the two? To me its pretty simple. You need high-intensity aerobic exercise that everyone can do.

In 1993, students from T.C. Williams set the Penn Relays record for the fastest American team ever to participate in the 4×100 relay race. The record, still standing, is proof to Carr that tracks make a difference. There used to be acceptable running tracks at both middle schools and at T.C.

When you run as a child, it stays with you, Carr says. 

But there is a philosophical element to his quest as well. He sees running as a character builder, not just an element of healthy living.

When you run and you want to stop but you dont stop, I think that is what the youth of today are missing, he says. That ability to reach something when you dont want to keep going. To me it equates to high school graduation or anything else you want to do in life that you dont want to really continue but you do anyway.

It would seem that Carr acted on his own life lesson. 

Sometimes I would think, I dont really feel like going today, but there was some kind of insidious effect that it was having on the kids, Carr says. 

So he hit his stride, and pushed and pushed. With the help of elected officials and Superintendent Morton Sherman, a $300,000 track has been approved for construction next summer. Its a long way off, but Carr will take it.

I will feel totally vindicated, he said.