A Dying Race

Houston boasts some of the biggest track legends in the world. Who cares? They do.

As Glover learned how to balance work and training, she regained her speed, then got even faster. Two years ago she made the Goodwill Games team and brought home first place. That gained her access to the European circuit, which next to the Olympics is the biggest thing in track and field.

"Over here you're nobody," Glover says. "But when you go to these European meets, the stadium is packed; people are even outside standing. They have a fence up trying to keep all the fans from jumping onto the track." There's serious money to be made as well. Last year Glover competed in the elite Grand Prix Golden League, a series of invitation-only meets with prize money in the tens of thousands of dollars for each event, compared to the $3,000 to $5,000 prize for winning a big U.S. meet. She finished second in points in the women's 400-meter hurdles, ninth in points for all women's events and third in the Grand Prix final 400-meter hurdles. Not bad for a full-time second-grade teacher.

"Last year I worked every day," Glover says proudly. "Got off about three-thirty, on the track at four, train until seven. Go home, do a little weight workout. Eat dinner, do some schoolwork or something, get in the bed at twelve. Get out of bed at six the next morning and go to work. That was my regimen."

Sandra Glover is the reigning U.S. champion in the hurdles.
Deron Neblett
Sandra Glover is the reigning U.S. champion in the hurdles.
Mike Marsh won gold in the 200 in the 1992 Olympics.
Deron Neblett
Mike Marsh won gold in the 200 in the 1992 Olympics.

Although Glover earned enough in Europe to allow her to take a leave of absence and train full-time this year for the Olympics in Sydney, Australia, she will certainly return to the classroom. "Track money is like fool's gold," says Don Glover. "The 400-meter hurdles is only Grand Prix every other year, so one year there's a lot of money, the next year you can't even make half that. Even your shoe deal is based on how fast you run and how you do in Golden League meets, world championships, Olympic Games. If you don't make those, you don't make any money."

"It's not like baseball and football, where you sign these big ol' million-dollar contracts," Sandra says. "You have to go out every year and make your money. Make the effort, train hard. Everyone is just so gung ho about football and baseball. People don't realize how hard we have to train. I started training in October, and I'm not going to stop until the Olympics [in September]. Six days a week, hard, hard training. Three to four hours a day. I run this race in 53 seconds. That's faster than a lot of men can run an open quarter [with no hurdles]. They just don't know how hard I train."

"I'd like to see some football players run the 400 hurdles," adds Don. "They think they're in great shape. You get out here and split a 52 in the 400, then five minutes later we ask you to run 300 meters in 40 seconds. I bet you those guys would be lying dead right on the track. And those are women's times."

Glover is the reigning U.S. champion, and as of this writing had the fastest time in the world this year, 55.14 (her personal best is 53.65; the world record of 52.61 was set by the USA's Kim Batten in 1995). This should be the year that her talent, her determination, her husband and her faith finally get her to the Olympics at age 31.

"One thing I attribute my success to is my faith in Christ," she says. "I used to get mad about having to work and train, but on days when I thought I could not go on, He was always there to carry me through the workouts. That's why when I win this gold medal, all glory goes to Him."

It sure won't go to her. After Glover won the Goodwill Games and the U.S. championships, after she became a household name in Europe, "nobody knew," says her husband. "Since Carl Lewis retired [in 1997], the city has acted like track retired in Houston. But it didn't. I don't think there's any place in the country that has as many world-class athletes as Houston. And the community doesn't even know it. I remember when one of the ladies won in ice-skating, and there was a big ol' sign in flashing lights, 'Welcome to Sugar Land, home of Tara Lipinski.'

"Hey, we live in Sugar Land, too."

Look inside yourself. What do you find?

Inside is the only place you can seek help at a time like this, when the lactic acid starts collecting in your muscles and the oxygen starts disappearing from your blood. You know this, just as surely as you know that ping in your calf means drink water or that twinge in your hamstring means slow down. Your coach is on the sidelines and yet a million miles away. Your teammates are trying to defeat their own demons, maybe even you. There are no referees to blame. There's only your will. Your resolve. Your heart.

This race belongs to you alone.

"The greatest thing about track and field is, even the average person can identify with the desire to accomplish something as an individual," says Frank Rutherford, a triple jumper from the Bahamas who has called Houston home for the past 17 years. "No other sport epitomizes the focus, discipline, drive, motivation, intuition, tenacity, every word you can think of to describe somebody feeling good about themselves and trying to accomplish something. This is a sport that clearly defines individuality. Every average person has their own race to run in life. Team sports has its place also; you have to learn how to get along with other people. But before you can get along with others, you have to get along with yourself."

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