The late afternoon sun starts its downward trek towards the horizon. Shadows of trees, buildings, and cars stretch into unrecognizable shapes. A warm spring breeze gently sways the blossoming tulips. Among the shadows sits a man, perched upon his porch. He dons a silver cap, flowing behind his ears. His face illustrates the passage of time. All of a sudden, a white truck with a blue eagle pauses. The man gracefully stands and saunters slowly to the end of his drive where a small black box with a waving red flag stands. As he opens the box, it creaks a song of tarnished glory. The man reaches inside to discover a plain white envelope, a blue logo near the top. The wrinkles on his face contract as a toothy grin persists, nostalgia setting in.
In a neighboring town, a young child slams the car door. Grass stains littering her uniform, she sprints towards the mailbox as mud cakes dislodge from her spikes. Through the suns's twilight a boisterous smile shines upon her face as she flings open the box in jubilee. The girl reaches inside to discover a plain white envelope, a blue logo near the top. The dimples on her face spring up as a beaming smile persists, excitement beyond any other. She calls to her family, "they're here, they're here!"
A student recently posed the question "what would Drake University look like if the Drake Relays never existed?" As a Drake alum turned athletics staff member, she felt that I could provide a strong perspective on the impact the Drake Relays has on the University and Des Moines community. I pondered my response and provided a structured answer tagging phrases like "economic impact", "community building", "unique reputation", and other buzzwords. To me, my answer made sense, but it was very much focused on the bigger picture. It did not take into account the impact the Drake Relays has on the lives of the fans.
Ironically, my sole focus as a professional is to serve each individual fan. My job is to ensure that each and every event is worth the price printed on the ticket. My job is to create the nostalgia and excitement in the two scenarios above. If the Drake Relays did not exist, the happiness, joy, and nostalgia experienced by fans across the world, both young and old, would be nothing but an idea.
A theme presents itself in every fan interaction my associates or I have leading up to the Drake Relays. Whether this is their 50th consecutive or first time attending America's Athletic Classic on the Blue Oval, the excitement in their voice is always the same. The Drake Relays connects fans past, present, and future across space and time. It is an event that marks reunions for some, others the official start of Spring in Iowa, and some just another time to celebrate the success of some of the world's best and greatest athletes.
During my years as an undergraduate at Drake University, I sang in the Drake Choir. Our director once told us a story of a previous choir that experienced an exceptional performance during their European tour. The following day, one of the choir members expressed his feelings in a phrase that, in my mind, is directly transferable to the Drake Relays. In response to the performance, he stated that "all hearts and minds were in the same place".
And that is what makes the Drake Relays so special. And that is what makes me proud to work in athletics and be a part of something so special. To me, it is all about the people. The Drake Relays not only physically connects thousands of fans at Drake Stadium, but it spans history with those who have both competed and attended since the very first running in 1910. Experience it yourself and you will understand what I mean. The last weekend in April, come sun, rain, sleet, or snow, you will feel what others before you and those who will come after you feel. All hearts and minds will be in the same place.
Never become so absorbed in the magnitude of something so you forget about the individual fan. At the end of the day, your job is to provide an experience that every single attendee will cherish for the rest of his or her life. No matter whether its sports, musicals, concerts, or something in the experience industry, your goal should always be to create an atmosphere that brings every fan together. One that bridges past, present, and future.
All hearts and minds in the same place.