Toni Campbell, age 8, and Kirk Clayton, age 65, get along just fine.
That’s because they have something in common.
They both love track and field, and that was all-so-evident Saturday on the second day of the Northwest Express Track & Field meet at Dade North’s Traz Powell Stadium.
Campbell is the future of the sport. Clayton is part of its history.
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Clayton, a world-record holder in the sprints who ran with and against Jimmy Hines, Tommie Smith and John Carlos and many others, showed Campbell some running tips Saturday. Campbell, a quiet sort, was polite and deferred to age and did not insist on giving Clayton some of her tips.
She probably didn’t care or know that he was a former world-record holder. Clayton was just a friendly face and friendly person passing along some helpful hints.
That’s what the Northwest Express meet is all about — people of all ages getting together and relating.
“We’re looking at friendships out there,” Clayton said.
In fact, Clayton even refused to call the event — in its 39th year — a track meet.
“It’s not a track meet,” he said, “it’s a track institution. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Part of what left him incredulous was Friday’s first day of the meet. The starting time was supposed to be 5 p.m., but at that time there was thunder, lightning, massive rain and a soggy track.
“Everybody was telling them [event officials] to pack up and go home,” Clayton said. “But they wouldn’t have any of that. They wanted the athletes to be able to run and not disappoint the kids.”
Some 2½ hours after the scheduled start, the meet was off and running and Jesse Holt, the meet’s founder and the person who keeps it on track, so to speak, was smiling — and so were the kids.
“Incredible, these guys beat Mother Nature,” Clayton said.
“This is such a great event and a great addition to the track and field community,” Clayton added. “It’s wonderful for the kids.”
Then Clayton took a thoughtful pause and corrected himself, “Actually, even for the older people.”
He was referring to the fact that the meet, with 2,000-plus entries, takes athletes in age categories from 6-and-under to 70-and-older from all over the world.
Mingling among the fans and participants, shaking hands and giving tips, are world-record holders, Olympic gold medalists, American champions and various U.S. Olympic team members from the past.
That’s the glamour of the meet.
However, Clayton is more impressed with the heart of the event.
“There is no divide or ethnicity at this meet, with people from all around the world,” he said. “The mixture, the people, the family atmosphere are so much a part of it.
“I saw some kids who didn’t do so well,” Clayton said, “and I would yell to them to get their heads up.
“The measure of a man is how you respond when you lose. It’s easy to win. Losing tests you. But the good thing about track is there’s always a next week.”
And for Clayton, after attending the meet for the first time, he’s planning to be back next year.
“I’m so much looking forward to coming back,” Clayton said. “This is wonderful.”