Why I run: A story of passion and progress

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By Tirthraj Patel, Staff Writer

Picture the Freshmen Year club fair: a stuffy cafeteria chock-full of banners and trifolds advertising Townsend’s many extracurricular clubs and athletic teams; tables full of representatives loudly announcing their organization’s presence, handing out candy to those who sign up, and attempting to entice as many new students as possible.

For senior and track captain Matthew Neil, the annual club fair was the leap of faith that launched his prolific Track and Field career. Recalling this chance interaction, Matthew described, “I had decided to attend [the fair] to learn more about the environment of my high school. I came across many clubs and teams but what stood out most was the track team.”

What drew him to the Track and Field booth was not the modest promotion or the lack of snacks. He was instead impressed by the accounts of a group of athletes who had practically become family through years of training and competing together. “I was always interested in track, but never had the guts to pursue this interest,” Matthew explained. “Yet when I met the coach and the members of the team, they told me how formative of an experience the team truly is; this is what changed my mind.”

Running is a key element of most other sports. Despite high school being Matthew’s first encounter with track, the act of running itself— whether it be sprinting up and down a basketball court to prevent a game-winning 3-pointer or racing to the nearest Mr. Softy’s after for a quick postgame snack— was something that Matthew had always enjoyed. So, having been somewhat preconditioned for track from a young age, Matthew headed into his inaugural practice ready to take on a challenge. “The first day was pretty rough because I was not completely ready to run, but over time I adjusted,” he said. Still, what differentiates casual runners from serious athletes is the level of dedication and discipline when it comes to practice and steady progression.

And this is the very deterrent Matthew faced when reconciling with the fact that for nearly a year during his sophomore season, his times had remained relatively unchanged. Matthew reasoned, “In track, there can come a point when you stay around the same time for a little while and that was me during sophomore year, running in the 5:20s for most of the season.” In a sort of self-fulfilling downward spiral, he credited his own lack of dedication for the stagnant run times, which only discouraged him, thus further preventing progress.

Now fast forward three and a half years; today, Matthew is a distance runner who partakes in the 800 meter, the mile, and two mile events across all three seasons of track and cross country. Matthew noted the first time he set a notable personal record and overcame his slump by breaking the 5-minute barrier in the mile. “I vividly remember how excited I was and how proud I was of all the hard work that led up to that moment. I thought I was going to get recruited for the USA Olympic Team,” Matthew joked.

Since then, Matthew has continued to run, training to bring his time down as much as possible. “Currently, my best time in the mile is 4:45. Making it to the 4:30s range by the end of this final outdoor season would be a huge accomplishment,” said Matthew.

Looking ahead, although he will not be competing in college, Matthew has the goal of participating in a half marathon. But before graduating, he had some words of appreciation for the coaches who helped him and the team in general: “I would like to thank my coaches and all my teammates for all they instilled in me. As well as the team, for continuing to work hard daily and consistently producing great times at meets. Continue to work hard and it will pay off.”

Outside of sports, Matthew can be seen taking photographs for his Instagram page and for The Classic, or jamming out in jazz band early in the mornings. “What do photography, music, and sports have in common?” you might ask. For co-captain Matthew Neil, they are all mediums of growth and expressions of his unbridled passion. Track has completely transformed Matthew by instilling a routine work ethic and unleashing an inner passion for the sport he truly loves.