Tracks are supposed to be constructed of rubber and provide a soft landing for runners. Rutgers track sophomore Patrick Walsh honed his craft on what was barely a track at all.
After completing a successful cross country season his freshman year, Walsh would’ve run track for his high school except for one major setback: His school didn’t have a track team. Instead, he trained with a now-closed private school, while receiving one-on-one instruction at the same time from his South Amboy Middle High School coach Anthony Mecca.
Walsh’s inspiration to keep running came from the runners in his family and especially from his grandfather.
“What inspired me to start running was my grandfather," Walsh said. "He was just the best guy.”
Because South Amboy Middle High School is a small school, there hadn’t been an athlete recruited to play Division I sports in recent memory.
“Being that we play other small schools, it’s very hard for kids in baseball and soccer to get recruited,” Walsh said. “The benefit that track brought to a small school like South Amboy was that, at the end of the day, a time is a time ... as long as my time was there I could get recruited.”
“A lot of students from my small high school in South Amboy could really benefit from running track," Walsh said. “I thought that track could give our students an opportunity to take their talents to the next level.”
Walsh and Mecca decided that it was in everyone’s best interest to start a track program.
“I went to the Board of Education, I got a bunch of signatures from kids in my high school," Walsh said about starting the team. "I worked with my coach to make a PowerPoint to present to the Board of Education.”
The team immediately gained popularity with approximately 20% of the student body joining. While there was clearly interest in the sport, South Amboy Middle High School lacked the proper amenities.
“Instead of a typical track you would see around a football field, with rubbery material, there was a 360-meter concrete square, which was very bad for my legs,” Walsh said.
The team now travels to a track a few miles away for their workouts.
Besides creating an outlet for himself and other runners to excel, Walsh also discovered a new passion through this long process.
“Going through that process of working with the Board of Education inspired me to run for the Board of Education when I was 18," Walsh said. "I was able to win the election.”
Walsh’s motivation to start a track team is the same reason he is passionate about his elected position.
“I’m affecting hundreds of students," he said.
Walsh’s term ends in a year, but he is currently enrolled in the 3-1-1 program at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. This will allow Walsh to graduate in five years with a master’s degree in public policy and immediately enable him to start a career of giving back.
This career has already begun for Walsh, though, as he is currently a volunteer cross country and track coach at South Amboy. What this means for Walsh is that the days of running on non-regulation tracks and training by himself are over.
“I have guys to work out with," Walsh said. "I have a track. I have a trainer. I have all these different facilities at Rutgers.”
Starting a track program not only helped Walsh further his running career and the careers of others — it gave him valuable political experience and accountability as well.
“In order to be successful when you’re training by yourself, you need to love and be dedicated to the sport," Walsh said. "So, I put that same dedication and love to (the sport) now.”
Walsh and the entire Rutgers men’s cross country team is now focused on the championship races that start on Sunday at Ohio State with the Big Ten Championships.
For updates on the Rutgers men's cross country team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.