Friday, June 13, 2008

To Glimpse A Moment Of Greatness

It's really a crime that I haven't updated this blog in almost a year when in fact the last 11 months have afforded me some of the most spectacular sports moments I've ever witnessed in my twenty-three years of breathing.

And most, if not all of those moments have been directly related to a man by the name of Walter Dix.

Prior to starting my graduate assistantship at Florida State last summer, I had only a very vague knowledge of track & field. I knew we had a good team and I knew Walter Dix was a good runner, but that was about the extent of my knowledge. Looking back on it now I am ashamed that I worked in Sports Information as an intern for a year--let alone that I followed Seminole sports for 22 years--without knowing more about one of the greatest sports there is and one of the greatest athletes who's ever been a part of it.

If you don't know (and obviously I am obligated to excuse you if you don't) Walter Dix is very possibly the greatest collegiate sprinter of all time. Going into his final race tomorrow, here in Des Moines, Iowa at the NCAA Track & Field Championships, Dix holds 17 All-American honors and 7 National Championships in the four years he's been at Florida State.

But the awards and accolades (and trust me, there are many more beyond those) don't really tell you who Walter Dix is or why his story is so amazing. There are two parts to the Walter Dix phenomenon that make him such an incredible specimen to the world of athletics.

Part One: Walter Dix did not start formal weight training until this year.

Consider some of Dix's competitors in the top collegiate sprint events--football players like Trindon Holliday and Jacoby Ford, even Dix's own teammate Michael Ray Garvin. Those men have muscles stacked upon muscles stacked upon more muscles. Any sprinter would tell you it takes good weight training to tone your muscles to push yourself to faster speeds.

But Walter Dix had never set foot in a weight room until this year.

That means his accomplishments coming into this season--15 All-American honors and 7 national championships--came from pure, unharnessed talent.


Part Two: Everyone (and I mean everyone) thought he should go pro last year--except him.

After three incredible seasons at the helm of the two-time national champion Florida State track and field program, absolutely no one would have batted an eye if Dix snatched up the Wal-Mart Superstore-sized prize that Nike dangled in front of him last year. I've heard hints at how much the number was, but I'd rather not say in deference to Dix.

I will say, however, that it was probably three to four times as much money as what any other college athlete would have snatched up without a second thought.

The funny thing is though, I think it could have been three to four times more and Dix wouldn't have spent more seconds that it takes him to run the 100m dash on average (10.2) to make his decision. He was determined to stay at Florida State even after his own father told him to go pro and his coaches told him to go pro. In fact, I'm 99% positive he could've sat the Pope down and laid out his options and the Pope would have looked at him and said, "For Christ sake son, go pro!"

(Okay maybe not those exact words)

How refreshing to find an athlete who actually has his priorities in order? Someone your kids can look up to and model their own lives after? Because with Dix it's not just about the money he turned down, it's about the kind of character it took to do it. Unfortunately, his type of athlete is becoming very close to extinct.

I can tell you this much. After I finish my tenure at Florida State within the next few weeks, no matter where my career goes from here, I will never forget what it's been like to be part of the glow that surrounds Walter Dix.

There are athletes who come along once in a blue moon who make you forget (at least for a few minutes) about all the Michael Vicks and the Pacman Joneses and the Barry Bondses, but rarely--if ever--do you find an athlete who can make you remember why you fell in love with sports in the first place.

Walter Dix is that kind of athlete.

No matter what happens tomorrow--no matter how Walter Dix finishes his career in the 200m dash or how Florida State finishes in the team standings--I will never forget the season I spent with Walter Dix. Ever. I've built a shelter for it in my mind and another in my heart (and another in this blog) so that I can carry it with me in every way possible through the rest of my career and my time on Earth.

If you think I'm biased or just totally off base, call my bluff and watch Walter Dix run his final collegiate race tomorrow on CBS at about 3:45 p.m. central time.

Do it.

I dare you.