By Rod O’Donnell - Ken Norton’s first novel, When Legends Run Free, is a must-read for anyone who has participated in, coached, or has been associated in some way, with the sport of cross-country. The author, who was a Division II All-American at Southwest Missouri and was coached by the legendary Chuck Hunsaker, captures the true essence of the sport and the dedicated athletes who participate in it. His descriptions of the races, the warm-ups, grueling interval workouts, and long Sunday runs on crisp fall mornings, will truly bring back many wonderful memories of similar experiences that we have all had.

     The story follows a team at Twain State, a fictitious university, in its quest of a third national title in six years. The commitment of the coach, his family, the team, and a group of supporters is similar to reading a historical novel; unfortunately, the school’s president and the athletic director do not share this passion. The attitude and personalities of these two figures are, regrettably, accurate descriptions of many of their non-fictitious counterparts in today’s institutions of higher learning.

     In the final three chapters, the Hall of Fame Induction of the coach and one of his star athletes takes place 20 years after both men left the program. The meaning of the impact and importance of being a part of the program is captured in a way that will also rekindle many memories for the readers and may even bring tears to their eyes.

     This is a book for all those who love the wonderful fall sport, but it will especially touch a nerve for former athletes and coaches at Ohio University, Bowling Green, Western Michigan, Marshall University, The University of Akron, and many others who have seen cross-country and/or track and field discontinued at their schools. When the final page of When Legends Run Free is completed, the reader will understand the emotions that a team experiences on a journey through not only a tumultuous season, but for the remainder of the runners’ lives. 


     According to the Virginia Pilot, there is great news out of Williamsburg, Virginia. President Katherine Rowe recently announced that the men’s track and field program will remain a part of the athletic department for the foreseeable future. The question may be asked – how did this change of direction occur, in light of the fact that many departments have discontinued the sport? The answer can be summed up easily: 1) Strong alumni that were given the task of raising $500,000, and quickly surpassed that amount; 2) A seven million dollar endowment; 3) A proactive, aggressive coaching staff and former athletes who worked tirelessly to save this historical program; 4) Most interestingly, the involvement of alumni who had NO direct ties to track and field but who understand the importance of sponsoring a balanced athletic program.

     As an example, three William & Mary alumni are in my family. None attended meets while they were there, but all are generous donors; they value the sport, and they communicated with other graduates and/or the College’s administration, noting their dissatisfaction in the decision to discontinue track and field, swimming and gymnastics. I am sure they were among many who shared their feelings. Reaching out to those who have a direct connection and others who, quite frankly, understand the value of all sports, is a resource that should be utilized at other schools. The graduates mentioned here were alerted to the situation by phone calls, which prompted them to contact fund raisers in the departments of law and business. This information was then passed along to the higher administration of the university and athletics, who took note of the fallout of a bad decision. What a great example of a “community” coming together to save a vital piece of the nation’s oldest institution of higher learning. Congratulations on a job well done. ALL OF YOU made a difference.


     Heartfelt congratulations to the meet directors, athletes, and coaches who have continued to be involved during the indoor season, despite the COVID 19 restrictions and inconsistent rules regarding competition and practice. The indoor season required the practice of many life lessons, including resilience, flexibility, and patience. The goal of making sure that our beloved sport was enjoyed by our young athletes has been accomplished. Good luck this spring!


Yours in track,

Rod O’Donnell

Read more of Rod O’Donnell’s Keeping Track articles in  http://www.runohio.com  

2020 OHSAA State Cross Country Championships - http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/news/134-keeping-track-by-rod-o-donnell-2020-ohsaa-state-cross-country-championships 

COVID 19 and Sports -  http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/news/120-keeping-track-covid-19-and-sports-by-rod-o-donnell    

Life Lessons from Cross-Countryhttp://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/10-life-lessons-from-cross-country-updated-2020       

Critical Time for Cross Country and Track & Field -  http://www.runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/96-track        

Facts - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/100-keeping-track-facts     

Track - http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/67-keeping-track       

Football and Track & Field -  http://www.runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/78-keeping-track-football-and-track-field      

Marc Bloom’s Amazing Racers - http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/43-keeping-track-marc-bloom-s-amazing-racers-by-rod-o-donnel l        

College of William & Mary  http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/news/121-keeping-track-college-of-william-mary-by-rod-o-donnell    

Take care and I hope to see you at a race soon.

Matt McGowan