Everybody knows it! I love, love photographing track and field. The focus, determination, hard work, discipline and good sportsmanship impress me time and again and inspire me to do my very best capturing this all. What I love even more is when it involves young athletes.
Three years ago, in March 2013, I was at the USATF Youth Indoor Track and Field Championship in Landover, MD. Amongst thousands of athletes I noticed a young boy, so little but so very devoted. I'm guessing he was 5 years old. It was hard not to notice him. He kept popping up in several races.
When I came home, I started to process thousands of photos. Although I had many favorites, I kept going back to my little friend. I "christened" him as "My Favorite Little Athlete".
A year went by. Then in March 2014 I, once again, went to the Indoor Nationals. I had set myself some new goals in terms of trying new angles, experiment with a fisheye lens (much disliked by photo editors), more creative shots, applying new panning techniques and so forth. But above all, I HAD to find my favorite little athlete. And I found him!
A little face in the crowd, awaiting his turn in the relay. And entertaining himself, his team, and me; showing off what else can be done with a baton besides the designated use of it!
There were no tears this time. Just intense focus.
And clearly prepared for the starter's gun; and loud, very loud, bang!
My favorite little athlete ran several races.
Oddly enough, I never checked what his times were. I had no idea how he placed. It didn't seem important to know as I was mostly focussed on keeping track of him and showcasing his efforts and a little of his personality. But his coach definitely seemed very pleased!
Playing, focussing, working hard and...caring for his teammate. It all seemed to fit my previous perceptions of this young track star!
At this point the little boy was still anonymous. I didn't know his name or what team he ran for. I didn't know his coach nor his family. So then, after this race, in the chaos of the moment and the victory, I called out to the coach that I had many photos of his athlete and could he please get in touch with me.
Once home I quickly put together an album of photos of my favorite little athlete, stuck them in a collage and put that on my Facebook page hoping that someone would know this little guy and give me contact information. I really wanted to get in touch with family members. But that didn't happen. I was disappointed.
Not a month ago I went to The Netherlands to visit my family and cut that trip short so that I could cover the National Youth Indoors for the third time. This time it was called Hershey Youth Indoor for #USATFutureStars. Once again I set out to try new things, thinking of a great photographer's advice to always ask yourself before each new event: "Why am I here and what can I do differently?" (Ross Taylor). I had fun experimenting. But I was a little disappointed because my favorite little athlete was nowhere in sight. Sunday afternoon, towards the end of the meet and as I was doing different things, I finally saw something familiair from the corner of my eye. Yes! It was him! I quickly spun around and got him a few times during the race.
He had grown and his strides were much longer.
He also seemed a lot faster!
I wasn't going to let him out of my sight. Even if it meant waiting around the water fountain amongst many sweaty and/or collapsing and/or crying (from pain, joy or relief) athletes! This time I was hard-set to meet his coach and give him my business card.
But I got more: his mother! Finally! In the victory of the moment I gave her my card.
A few weeks after the meet his mother contacted me. I explained to her that I had been tracking her son for three years. It must have seemed a little odd to her! She told me that she and her husband have been coaching their little boy for several years and that he participates mainly in the 1500/1600 meter run, the 800 meter run, the 4x4 and most recently the long jump. And in her own words: "Ever since he started track and field 3 years ago at 5 years old, we (his dad and I) could also see the dedication and heart that goes into every race he runs. Winning or not, he gives it his all. But I have to admit he's had a pretty successful "career" so far for an eight year old:). I'm excited to see what the future holds for him..."
So my story has come full circle. My favorite little athlete has a name now and a background. I, too, am looking forward to see what the future has in store. I wish him and his parents all the best.
To see more young track and field athletes in action, look here: http://marleenvandenneste.smugmug.com/XCTF/Hershey-Youth-Indoor-315/48218615_QmRKCn