SWISHER — It was just days before the Super Bowl, the biggest and most-watched sporting event in the United States.
It was cold outside with slick roads and snow piles taking up parking spaces.
But for the packed room at Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery, this night belonged to track and field.
That’s right, in Iowa, in the middle of winter, talk about track and field warmed many hearts last Thursday.
The brainchild of the “Track Guy” speaker series, Mike Jay — the voice of the Drake Relays — wants to promote the sport, make it relevant all year.
“Track Guy will put logs on the fire of your burning desire,” former Iowa track and field coach Larry Wieczorek said while opening the evening.
“Track and field is having a hard time keeping up” with the sports that dominate television, like the NFL, Drake Relays director Blake Bolden said. “We have to keep it going.”
So on a cold night just outside Cedar Rapids, Jay and company did just that thanks to the trio of speakers — former Cedar Rapids Prairie prep and Paralympian Jessica Heims, a junior at Northern Iowa; former Iowa City High and Iowa track and football star Tim Dwight; and former Cedar Rapids Jefferson and USC national champion thrower Doug Lane.
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Track and field has meant something a little different to all three, but it’s safe to say the trio would not be where they are today without the sport that has good participation numbers but minimal viewing appeal.
The 21-year-old Heims, who lost her right leg as an infant, already has been places and done things people three times her age never have done, and never will do.
She competed in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, placing seventh in the 400 dash and eighth in the discus. She then won three gold medals at the Para Athletics Grand Prix in Grosseto, Italy — setting a world record in the discus — and will, once again, represent Team USA in the Parapan American Games in August in Peru and the Para Athletics World Championship in November in Dubai.
That’s a lot of doors opened through this sport, but it’s easy to see Heims could kick down any obstacle standing in her way.
“It was so cool,” she said when asked how it felt to represent the United States in international competitions. “I got a little teary the first time I put the uniform on.”
The 44-year-old Dwight — who looked at Heims and told her “you’ve got a heart like a lion” and to “take a lot of pictures” on her travels — was a two-time football All-American at Iowa who spent 10 seasons in the NFL as a wide receiver and kick returner. Track, he said, was the basis for much of that success.
“Track makes you faster,” he said when asked why he came back to Iowa to run for the Hawkeyes after his rookie football season. “You don’t get faster in football, you get slower.”
He also credited those who coached him, especially the late John Raffensperger, his track coach at City High.
“You coaches are huge inspirations and you drive us,” he said, looking out over a crowd that included many coaches. “Every single day Raff was excited to go to practice and train.
“I was a reflection of my coaches.”
It’s safe to say field — not track — changed Lane’s life, too, but not because of all the success he had. A three-time All-American at USC after winning multiple state high school shot put and discus titles at Jefferson, he still owns the all-time Iowa best in the shot with a put of 70 feet, 11 inches in 1968.
But, he said, it was an injury he suffered right before his final NCAA competition that affected him the most. While warming up, his second practice throw was “perfect.”
“Every nerve fiber, every muscle fired at exactly the right time,” he said Thursday.
A second later, however, pain set in. He broke a knuckle in his throwing hand and was unable to hit that distance again. He finished third in that NCAA meet and went to the Olympic Trials hoping his hand had healed enough.
But “knuckles don’t heal very fast.”
He failed to make the United States team.
“My hopes of going to the Olympics, which had been my dream most of my life, completely shattered,” he said.
But it didn’t shatter Lane.
“As it turns out, that was probably the best thing that has ever happened to me in my life,” he said.
That’s because this sport, like all sports, taught him to push through, to find a different route to success.
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“Today my philosophy has been, as it has since that day ... I get up and I think to myself ‘where is the knuckle in my day,’” he said. “That one little thing that you’re not even going to think about that is going to prevent you from doing the things that you actually want to do.”
That injury, that disappointment, drove Lane to graduate from USC in 1972 with a BA in psychology. It pushed him to get his BS in microbiology and biochemistry at Cal State-Chico in ’75 and his MBA from Golden Gate University in ’86.
He now runs DC Lane Advisors in Southern California, a management and advisory service “empowering people, ideas and business.” He’s also a college professor and has recently started doing voice-overs for commercials, documentaries and movie trailers.
“In a weird, weird way, I’m so glad it happened,” he said. “It’s been a good run.”
Track and field has been a good run — or throw or jump — for many. Track Guy wants you all to know that.
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