By Alyssa Wherry
September 27, 2012
At 10 a.m. on August 27, Lock Haven alumni Nick Hilton and Ryan Blood toed the line at the University of Minnesota’s Field house alongside eight other accomplished runners. The clock started and they took off, much like any other race. However, this was not like anything they had run before. Over the next five days they would take turns running 1,000 miles through six states to their final destination of Penn State University’s outdoor track. They were running to break a world record, running to raise money for the Life…Back On Track program, and running for the legacy of Kevin Dare.
Kevin Dare was a pole-vaulter for Penn State University. In February 2002, he was competing at the Big Ten Indoor Track and Field Championship held at the University of Minnesota. He sprinted down the run way, planted his pole, and flew into the air. Instead of landing on the mat, Dare landed near the runway and died after hitting his head on the metal planting box where he had planted his pole for the jump.
The Kevin Dare Foundation was set up in his memory. The Foundation strives to improve the safety of pole vaulting. The Foundation helped promote development and use of the world’s first pole vault specific helmet and SoftBox. It also works to educate athletes of the dangers of the sport and the need for strict safety standards.
The Kevin Dare Foundation along with the Life…Back On Track program have a mission to help high school athletes who have suffered debilitating injuries or illnesses realize their dreams of earning a college degree. The program provides funds by means of scholarships to the college of the student’s choice. Their goal is to provide the opportunity to outstanding student athletes that exhibit the courage and strength to overcome their situations and are still determined to achieve collegiate academic status.
For the 10-year anniversary of Dare’s death, the Life…Back On Track program hosted a 1,000 mile relay in his honor. Ten accomplished athletes would take turns running in hopes of breaking the world record. Blood became involved through his training partner, Penn State alumni, Brian Fuller. After one of the members of the team dropped out due to work commitments, Blood brought in Hilton.
“I had done some research and knew that it was definitely something that I wanted to be a part of,” Hilton said.
They continued their summer training averaging about 70 miles a week. Both men were stand out athletes for Lock Haven University but they knew this wouldn’t be an easy race. They mentally prepared themselves for the long journey they had before them. After a day of running they started to notice the soreness. When they weren’t running a leg of the race they did their best to eat and get some sleep. Lack of sleep was something that Blood hadn’t factored into the equation.
“The first 48 hours, the 10 of us probably averaged two hours of sleep,” he said. “After that our bodies forced us to sleep basically wherever we could find room in the two RVs.”
After days of running, the team made its way into Pennsylvania and soon to Penn State. Emotions were running high as they approached Beaver Stadium and their final destination of the outdoor track. The roads were lined with family members, teammates and supporters as they strode into the final miles of the relay.
“We had some pretty lonely nights out on the back roads of Indiana and Ohio,” Blood said. “But just knowing we’d have a crowd waiting for us at the track and that Kevin was watching over us kept us going.”
They still had over six miles to go when they arrived at Penn State’s outdoor track. Each person had run at least 90 miles already so they took turns, each doing a lap at a time. Despite the five days of running and lack of sleep they pushed the pace.
“It kind of turned into who could run the fastest lap. Probably not the best thing to do after running 990 plus miles at 5:40 pace but we are all competitive guys and it was fun,” Blood joked.
When they reached the final lap, all 10 men ran it together. They rounded the turn into the final 100 meters, handed Ed Dare – Kevin’s father – the Penn State flag they had been carrying, and walked across the finish line as a team. Ninety-five hours, three minutes and four second was their official time – breaking the previous record of 99 hours three minutes and 27 seconds by almost four hours. The realization of what they had just accomplished set in.
“It was tough to fathom how far we had come on foot and to do it at just over 5:40 pace is nothing short of incredible,” Hilton said.
In five days, the men had run 1,000 miles, crossed through six states, broke the world record, and most of all honored the memory of Kevin Dare.
Nick and Blood are now living in Flagstaff, Arizona to pursue their dream of becoming professional runners and one day making an Olympic team. Flagstaff is one of the premier places in the world to train as an endurance athlete.
“I think you’ll see big things from both of us in the future on the running scene,” Blood said. “We couldn’t have done this without the support back home from our friends, family and everyone at LHU,” he added.
Visit http://www.kevindare.com to learn more about Kevin Dare and the Foundation and http://www.lifebackontrack.com to read more about the world record relay, donate to the program, or nominate a student athlete.