Runners bring Olympic Trials to McKenzie Track
July 1, 2021
The McKenzie River Valley is world-renowned for its cold, clear water, uniquely emerging from volcanic lava beds, which provide natural filtering and a relatively constant flow and temperature. Past US Presidents and other notable dignitaries have vacationed and fished on the McKenzie for its prized Rainbow Trout, guided by iconic local guide families rowing the no less iconic McKenzie River Boat. This is also Big Timber country and the drive up the McKenzie Highway has always held as one of the most beautiful trips through both remnant old-growth and managed forests. In more recent times, the McKenzie River has become a destination for paddleboat, kayak, and private River Boat trips, for both pleasure and fishing. And the McKenzie River Valley is a gateway to outstanding Wilderness Areas featuring some of the most beautiful Cascade Mountain Peaks and surrounding valleys. The small boom and bust local towns along the McKenzie have struggled to stay sustainable as the economy moves further away from timber-based to tourist/recreational/retirement oriented. Enter the Holiday Farm Fire 2020. From Leaburg east through the McKenzie Valley to McKenzie Bridge, the historic Holiday Farm Fire wrote a new and harsh chapter to the McKenzie story. With Fire damage and devastation encompassing 173,000 acres and destroying over 400 McKenzie homes as well as many businesses, the People of The McKenzie River, have been put to an enormous test. One that draws on all the emotions, resiliency, and skills necessary to recover, rebuild and hope. The People are strong and are coming together, sometimes not easily, but definitely. We are learning, with some bruising, what it means to raise a barn the size of the McKenzie River Valley. Last Tuesday, June 22, the McKenzie River received a boost from a dedicated group representing the International Track community. Touted as the McKenzie International and sponsored by Portland Track, the first track meet since the Fire devastation was held at the Aaron and Marie Jones Community Track. That was the same track venue that provided safe haven for approximately 40 McKenzie residents and additional fire/rescue personnel trapped there the day of the fire. The meet hosted by the McKenzie Community Track and Field Committee was livestreamed internationally as a pay-per-view event with all proceeds accumulated by the companies and athletes involved to be directed to the Blue River Community to aid in rebuilding. Michael Bergman, President of Portland Track and his company IncubatorU, first lined up the impressive roster of international track and field athletes and provided essential equipment necessary for a sanctioned meet. The next action was building the coalition of communication companies including the non-profit Onward Eugene represented by Managing Director Matt Sayre, and Elevate Technology Group, represented by CEO Geoff Turner. Teaming with McKenzie High School, these two companies provided the pilot program providing local Citizens Broadband Radio Service. McKenzie Community Track Board Secretary Jamee Savidge and President Duane Aanestad lined up the local volunteers and advertised to local fans to promote the event. The product of all those labors: An outstanding international track event that showcased some of the best athletes in the world, proceeds generated for Blue River and McKenzie rebuild and recover, and an enhanced, heartfelt relationship between McKenzie folk and the athletes. Australian native Charlie Hunter, who runs for the University of Oregon, ran a spectacular race last Tuesday at Aaron and Marie Jones Track. Hunter ran the second-fastest men's 800 meters in Australian history, 1:44.35 minutes, which qualified him for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. Hunter had just missed the Olympic Qualifying mark of 1:45.20 min. in the NCAA Track and Field Championships earlier at Hayward Field (missed by .03 seconds). Another former University of Oregon standout athlete and Australian, Jessica Hull, won the women's 1500 meter race, finishing in 4:04.01 min., which is under the Olympic qualifying time 4:04.20 min. Some of the international field joining Hunter and Hull on the track, running the 1500 meter race were Australian Ollie Hoare and Geordie Beamish of New Zealand, both representing On Athletics Club, Canadian Will Paulson and Puerto Rican Rob Napolitano of the Oregon Track Club, and German Amos Bartlesmeyer from the Bowerman Track Club. The women's 1500 meter race showcased Australian Hull and American Alexa Efraimson, both representing Nike, Jamaican Aisha Praught-Leer of Puma, and South African Dominique Scott representing Adidas. NCAA Indoor Champion Hunter ran in the men's 800-meter race and Canadian Ben Flanagen representing Reebok Boston and New Zealand's Matt Baxter of NAZ Elite were included in the men's 5000-meter race and shooting for the Olympic qualifying standard of 13:13.50 min. A Huge Thank You goes out to all the athletes, volunteers and promoters. Stop and ponder for a minute. McKenzie Track and Blue River, a destination for world-class athletes. Hmmmm! How does that not elicit positive energy to rebuild our special community. Let's get to work team!!