Band of brothers
April 19, 2018
Three years ago and toward the end of the regular season, Steve Heck wanted to try out a new relay team.
The ex-Greenwave track and field coach, who also starred for Fallon in the 1980s, knew this quartet was fast and he wanted to test them in the race. Seniors Drake Copley and Broder Thurston, and juniors Reid Clyburn and Colton Peterson ran for the second time together at the regional meet and finished second in the 4×200 and third in the 4×100.
"What I liked about them is they were a hard-working group and very motivated," Heck said. "They're the kind of kids who get motivated to work on handoffs on their own and you didn't have to get on top of them. They got to the point where they just coached themselves. They just melded that first year."
The following week at state in that same year, Fallon medaled in the 4×200 – just the third time running the race together. They overcame Fernley, who beat them before, and the performance gave these four more confidence going into their second year together.
"We knew that we would be able to compete with everybody else in the northern division," Thurston said about the regional. "It wasn't until the next week at state when we are able to medal that I believed we would be able to accomplish great things."
Their encore didn't disappoint.
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The Greenwave broke the school record in both the 4×100 (43.91 seconds) and 4×200 (1:31.63) at last year's regional meet, and then broke the 4×200 mark at state by shaving 0.25 seconds. Last weekend, history was made for the second time in the 4×100 and third time in the 4×200 with a 43.69-second effort in the 4×100 and 1:31.09 in the 4×200. Heck, who retired after last season but still helps Fallon run its home meets, said during Wednesday's Conclave of Awesomeness that this group is special for various reasons.
They've stuck together for three years — rare for any relay team. They hang out and are good friends off the track. And they can turn a bad situation into a positive.
"It's so much now that when something doesn't go right, they can make it turn out OK," Heck said. "Things go bad and they're fine because they adjust to each other so well. You've really got to know that when you hand that baton off, he's going to do his job. Just hanging out together and being friends helps that camaraderie and makes the team bond."
But it's being together for so long that makes this group stick out. Relay teams stay together generally for that same season, maybe two. Because of their experience, Heck estimates that this group has run almost twice as many relays.
"I've had some really great relay teams but I don't know if I've had one that really stuck together from freshman season all the way through," Heck said. "A lot of times, we'll have a kid that we've moved up or is part of an older group. This group has been together forever."
STARTING THE RACE
Like any race, Copley grabs his blocks, places them behind the starting line and adjusts as needed.
After a couple tests out of the blocks, he stands behind the blocks, awaiting the starter's instructions.
Copley focuses on staying calm and not letting the moment of breaking another school record overcome him. As the starter calls everyone to their blocks and then the gun goes off, Copley breaks out as quickly as possible. Timing, of all things, is most important.
"The way I set up my blocks is not as important as timing," Copley said. "In a close race, timing with your start is everything. Mental preparation is a big part as to why my starts have been so successful."
As Copley comes off the bend in the 4×100, the first person he sees is Thurston. The first exchange is never more important. Races are both won and lost in the exchange zone where a botched transfer can end the team's run just after the first leg.
With Thurston waiting, timing, again, is crucial.
"Having my teammate take off at the correct time," Copley said about the importance of the exchange. "With Broder, there has never been a problem. We all put so much trust in each other that we'll go out there and simply execute what we have trained for."
Thurston admits that Copley makes his job easier because of his speed out of the blocks and smooth transition during the exchange. With one leg completed in the 4×100, Fallon is off to a strong start and it's up to Thurston to continue that momentum before reaching Clyburn.
"By the time the baton is handed off to me, we are in a good position," Thurston said. "I continue to pass people in order to get the team into the best position as possible by the time I hand off to the third leg."
Thurston may not be the fastest but there's a reason why he runs the second leg. He capitalizes on the straightaway with his long strides and can easily close any gaps or create more distance before he's finished.
"Not many runners can cover as much track as I do on a straightaway due to my long strides," Thurston added. "There is no spot in this race where I am able to speed up because I am running my strongest throughout the entire race."
Running the 4×200, however, is different because all four run the same path, which includes a corner and straightaway. Thurston, though, begins his leg with a straight 100 meters before using the turn to accelerate as he reaches Clyburn.
"I try my best to speed up at the end of my race so I can keep the handoffs consistent with what we do in practice," Thurston said. "This also helps because the runners that are around me are also tired so that allows me to get ahead at the very end of the race. Sometimes, this doesn't happen, but we have ran with each other long enough that we are able to tell when the incoming runner is running slower than normal and we are able to gauge each other's speeds."
PREPARING FOR THE FINAL STRETCH
Clyburn is up next and his goal is to create more distance and relieve some pressure off Peterson during his final leg of the race. His explosiveness and strength-to-body weight ratio helps the team inch closer to that school record as Clyburn comes off the turn in the 4×100.
"It is important because I am able to create the most distance between myself and those behind me," said Clyburn, who weighs 160 pounds but can deadlift 450 and squat 355 pounds. "(The ratio) helps make for a fast handoff with Colton it is up to me to run hard and fast to give him an edge on the competition. There aren't many who will ever catch him when he leaves first on his leg."
Two exchanges later, Peterson awaits Reed coming off the turn. Different scenarios play in Peterson's head, depending on where the team sits as the third leg is nearly complete. And depending if it's the 4×100 or 4×200, since the latter offers Peterson the opportunity to take off later.
"If the relay team is behind a little bit, it is my job to bring us back up," Peterson said. "When I see Reid coming in, I start to see how he is feeling."
As Peterson grabs the baton from Clyburn, he bursts down the final straightaway in the 4×100 and opens his strides, creating separation. In the 4×200, though, Peterson takes advantage of the turn and slingshots into the final straightaway.
"I get the baton and for the whole race, I'm gaining speed," Peterson said. "I extend my stride and open my arms up to gain even more speed."
By the time Peterson leans across the finish line, he and his teammates await the unofficial time. Twice already, that time has broken the school record in each of the 4×100 and 4×200 races.
FACING THE INEVITABLE
After May 19, this relay team will be no more.
Copley and Thurston graduate this year but both are focused on keeping this band going strong until that final race.
For Thurston, though, it's been more than the race as all four have been together for three years, hanging out away from practice and even having dinner together before each meet.
"Each race has brought us closer as a team and we will always be a team and a family," Thurston said. "Each week before our meet, we have a dinner with each other where we are able to talk about what we need to do at the meet the next day and ways we can improve. When I graduate, I will miss my relay team most of all because they are the ones who have seen me at my best and seen me at my worst."
Peterson views this team more like a family but when he crosses the finish line for the final time this year, nothing will change how he views this quartet.
"They have really become my brothers. There isn't anything I wouldn't do for them," he said. "On and off the track, they have always been there for me. It's sad to see them leave but I know they're moving onto bigger and better things and no matter what, they will always be my brothers."
This band of brothers is nothing like you've seen.
They medaled at the state meet after their third race together. They broke the school record in both the 4×100- and 4×200-meter relays last year in winning the regional title. And they broke both records – again – in last weekend's Northwest Invite in Reno.
Together for three years, Copley, Thurston, Clyburn and Peterson are running the relays for the final time with one goal in sight. After breaking the school records, this band of brothers wants the gold in both races at state next month.
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