The theme for the 4th annual Track and Field Festival is fitting: Ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things.
Vermont Technical College coach Bob Dunkle has once again rounded up some of the sport’s top coaches and athletes for the two-day workshop. The event is open to the public and there is no charge for athletes, giving everyday Vermonters up-close access to former Olympians and national champs. To make it even more enticing for beginner athletes, free shoes will be up for grabs and organizers will hand out festival T-shirts to the first 150 individuals who arrive.
Friday’s slate will run from 4 to 6 p.m. at Norwich University, followed but Saturday’s session from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Vermont Tech campus. Middle-distance legend Jim Ryun will be a featured presenter along with long-distance experts Doug Padilla and Pablo Vigil.
Ryun captured the silver medal in the 1,500-meter race during the 1968 Summer Games, while Padilla is a two-time Olympian. Another speaker will be sprints and hurdles specialist Sheila Burrell, head coach at San Diego State. She is a two-time Olympian in heptathlon who placed second at the 2001 world championships and finished fourth at the 2004 Olympics.
“This year we have Olympians Sheila Burrell, Doug Padilla and Jim Ryun in the same place,” Dunkle said. “And we have Pablo Vigil, who is so amazing. He is world renowned and spends his time traveling to encourage youth and work with young athletes. He won so many hardcore races it is phenomenal. Not to mention the other coaches who are coming to be a part of Vermont sports for a weekend. I learn a lot of great lessons and hopefully become a better coach in the process.”
One of the most notable guests will be Dr. Craig Poole, whose focus is on long and triple jump. He’ll be joined by Dave Kerin (high jump, pole vault), Tappio Kuusela (throws) and Chris Polakowski (strength).
“I love watching Craig Poole and all these guys working 1-on-1 to teach a particular part of a lesson,” Dunkle said. “Imagine an Olympic coach sitting down for 30 minutes or more 1-on-1 with your athletes to teach them or answer questions. It makes them realize how important they are as people.”
Poole was a U.S. Olympic coach who spent 30 years coaching for BYU. He currently coaches at San Diego State and has made it a priority to attend the Vermont festival every year.
Poole and Dunkle discussed the idea years ago when the current VTC coach lived in Utah, and they visualized something similar to the West Yellowstone Ski Festival. After moving to Vermont, Dunkle noticed that many small-town athletes had an insatiable hunger to learn. He called Poole, who was working at an Olympic training site in California, and the pair hatched a plan to bring together coaches and athletes who have achieved the highest levels of their individual sport.
Vermont Tech AD Hilary Linehan has been a big supporter of the festival, which is now a preseason tradition. And it’s open to all individuals — not just track and field competitors.
“Vermont has amazing athletes to draw from,” Dunkle said. “Look at our Nordic teams that dominate nationally and attract great skiers to come here and train and compete. Running is a key component in training for skiing and most other sports as well. Track is a sport that is inclusive of all body types.
“When these coaches and athletes come, they teach techniques for training, injury prevention, strength. The first thing I notice as a result of each festival is the Facebook profile pictures that include our high school athletes with Doug Padilla, Tapio Kuusela or any of the others that come and participate. It means we have made a positive impact.”
Kuusela has 20 years of coaching experience at the collegiate level after working at BYU and Utah. He was an All-American in the hammer throw while attending BYU, and was a national collegiate champ in the power lift. A four-time Nordic and Finnish champion in Olympic weightlifting, he has coached several All-Americans and one Olympian.
Ryun was the first U.S. high school athlete to run a mile in under four minutes, and he is the last American to hold the world record in the mile. Vigil won one of Europe’s most prestigious trail races, Sierre-Sinal, four times in row.
Padilla held the national indoor 5-kilometer running record at 13 minutes, 15 seconds for 26 years. While competing for BYU from 1978 to 1981, Padilla set new marks in the indoor mile and 2-mile events and outdoor 1,500 and 5,000 meters. After college, Padilla was a 12-time U.S. champion while breaking seven American records. He competed in five world championships, winning the 5,000-meter races at the 1985 World Cup and the 1986 Goodwill Games. From 1983 to 1987, he won five consecutive national indoor championships, four national outdoor championships and two U.S. Olympic trials.
“My favorite parts of the festival is getting to meet new people, and watching the young athletes meet heroes of the sport,” Dunkle said. “Their eyes light up. Last year a few of the high school athletes were talking to Doug Padilla. They confessed they had never heard of him. I asked them if they had heard of (Steve) Prefontaine. And ‘Of course’ was the reply. And I said, ‘Well, Doug broke all of Pre’s records.’”
The cost to attend is $150 for each coach. There is a $400 fee for each organization (maximum of four coaches). Registration includes a Saturday breakfast and lunch. Individuals can register by contacting Dunkle at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 728-1771.