Angel Piccirillo's Penn Relays: Getting to the line was the hard part.


Getting to the line
was the hard part in my first Penn Relays Carnival.

by Angel Piccirillo, Homer Center

This past weekend, my coaches, my teammate, Megan Gaydosh, and I ventured to Philadelphia so I could compete in the very prestigious Penn Relays. And that’s exactly what it was, an adventure.

Photos by Don Rich, Tim Fulton, Matt Shatkus and Toby Nygaard

We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into when we left on Wednesday, April 21st 2010. We knew we would be leaving with plenty of time to get to my race which was at 7:25 on Thursday. But of course, we needed just about every one of those “extra” minutes. Who would have thought that this trip would be so eventful and so dramatic.

When our trip was coming to an end, Megan and I knew we had one more thing we had to do. Before I even knew that I would be writing this journal, we knew that to remember this weekend we would have to make a list of all the things we went through because in the 4 short days that we were gone, we had gone through enough for 4 months.

So, as I said before, our trip began on Wednesday, April 21st, 2010 at 4:00pm.

We were on the road to Philly, on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, where usually nothing exciting or eventful happens… WRONG!

We were on the Turnpike for about 3 hours, and the coach that chose to drive, Matt “Mookie” Wilson, looked down at the heat gauge and noticed that it was hot, and who knew how long it had been like that.

So not knowing what to do, my coaches decided that one plan of action was to dump 5 of the 24 bottles of water that I brought into the radiator to try and cool it down. Well that didn’t work, so our next plan of action was to just drive to a restaurant and hopefully get some help there. So we drove for another 45 minutes with our engine on hot and we finally got off the Turnpike, ate our dinner, and went back out to fix the van.

Now, our coaches were calling numbers and trying to get something worked out with our van and we came to realize that there was no way to get our van towed because none of our coaches had a AAA card. They never would have thought that one of us would have a AAA card, but we did. Megan Gaydosh’s mom, at the last minute, suggested that she take her license and AAA card just in case. Who would have thought she would actually need it. I know not any of us.

So they call AAA asking for someone to tow or van and we have to go from the restaurant another 20 minutes to find a hotel and leave as early as we can in the morning. We eventually did find a hotel, but I found out later that it was lucky that we even found a room because a family friend told me when I returned home from our trip that the Carlisle car show would be taking place the very next day. If we had broken down Thursday in Carlisle and needed a room we probably wouldn’t have found one.

So we find a hotel room and stay up waiting for the towing service to meet us at the hotel and take our van away. They come to pick up our van and we are given directions to find it when it is eventually fixed. Then we finally get to bed with a plan that my two head coaches, Mr. Rodkey and Coach G, would call the rental store ASAP to get the rental van and hopefully get to our hotel in Philadelphia as early as possible.


Thursday, April 22nd, 2012

On Thursday morning Coach Gentile and Coach Rodkey called the rental company looking for a van and they say that they can’t pick them up because they have no drivers, so Mr. Rodkey and Coach G have to call a cab, ride it to the rental store, get the van, and then drive back.

They finally get back to the hotel and we got a van about 10x times better then our old one. So one good thing has come out of this after all, and now we are on our way to Philadelphia to check into our real hotel.

We arrive at the hotel around noon and they tell us that we aren’t allowed to check in until 1:00pm. We are forced to stay in our hotel lobby for an hour waiting for our rooms to be ready. We finally get to our rooms, get ready, and are headed out for an early lunch/dinner before we head to the race by 5ish.

The choice was mine where we ate, and it was no surprise to everyone that I chose an Italian restaurant, which was excellent.

Then we head over to Franklin Stadium, which took about 30 minutes more than usual because we couldn’t find anywhere to park.

When we finally get out of the van and see all the people and stands, I’m in shock. I have never seen so many people at a track meet before, who were actually interested seeing what the best high school runners had to offer, not just parents and coaches. I thought that was so awesome.

I knew there were going to be a lot of people there but you really have to see it to understand.

You can probably guess the first thing we had to do with two 16 year old girls, and three excited coaches... buy souvenirs! We all get our shirts and batons and head into the stadium after taking a picture out front.

It was a good thing that my coaches knew that I would need some time to get used to the ambiance. But before I knew it, my coach and I were off jogging and getting warmed up and we are hit with a freak rain/wind storm. This caused a slight delay in the races going on, but once it’s over, I continue warming up and trying to stay calm.

After my first warm-up, I went back and sat down, relaxed and began focusing in on my race strategy.... which was to get out hard, then let the race play out, let someone else take the lead and follow.

Obviously by the looks of the race, I wasn’t the only one who had this strategy.

Then my coach casually asks me if I have my inhaler. Oops... I realize that the smaller bag I had to bring didn’t have my inhaler in it and this could be horrible.

But to my surprise he shakes it off as if it’s nothing, which lets me completely forget about this small crisis (as it seemed) and worry about the next one.

Then at about 7:00 I go out again, this time for good. I would have to say that one of the most emotional parts of this whole experience was saying good-bye to Mr. Rodkey, Coach Mookie, and Megan for the last time before my race. I had no idea that would be so hard, and nerve-racking.

Coach G, seeing this, knew that I would need a little more warming up before the race began. He knew we would be cutting it a little close, but I needed to go and clear my head.

So after a few more short jogs around the stadium, my Coach was getting a call from Don Rich wondering where we were, and people thought I wasn’t even racing. All this time I am thinking we have boatloads of time and we are right on schedule, but obviously I found later that I was definitely running late.

So I finally get to, what looked to me like a corral full of girls, who looked as nervous and scared as I did, but unlike me, they had everything they needed to race.

So I come running in the opening of the bullpen and a few officials who looked fairly overwhelmed looked at me and asked if I was number 1, and I said yes. But next they asked me where my numbers were. Oh crud. My coach and I believed that I was to get my numbers at the beginning of the race. Wrong, we were supposed to get them in our packet, which I didn’t.

So they send Coach G on a hunt for my numbers and next thing I know two number 1 tags are thrown at me, a sticker tag, and about 8 pins. Now I am really freaking out because my coach is gone, looking for numbers and here I am with my numbers and no way to put them on.

But before I can even fret, Chloe Schmidt came over and obviously saw my look of panic and immediately starting helping me pin my numbers on the back of my jersey. I honestly can’t thank her enough for coming to my rescue when I needed help, as if being at the race isn’t nerve-racking enough, not getting everything you need to be fully prepared drives you crazy.

So I am finally ready and the official tells us that we can start doing striders and I know this is it, I am about to race in the biggest race of my life and the time is now.

The next thing I know we are lining up and I’m trying to enjoy this as much as I can, focusing on my strategy and not the pressure, or all the family and friends I had at home watching my race LIVE!

Then the gun goes off, and the race has begun. We are off and I get out hard and then I wait for someone to take the lead, and it seemed that our first lap was a little slow, and then we really started.

Someone takes the lead and I am trying as hard as I can to stick to the plan. Finally it’s the gun lap and with 300 meters left, the leader makes a move. The one flaw of my race was not to immediately go with that girl; I gave her too much room.

Then coming around to the last 100 I was in second place and I had almost accepted it, but when I looked over, we were neck and neck and I just found another gear.

In the end, I knew how badly I wanted it, and I knew that my kick would be there if I needed it, and it was! I come across the line, throw my hands up, and I am so relieved words can’t describe.

I am herded off the track for the next race and I am floating on cloud nine. I look across the field and I see my coaches waving and Megan holding up the sign she made me and yelling for me. I hear people congratulating me and I see Coach G running towards me with a look of shock on his face, which probably just about mirrored mine.

Before I knew it, Mr. Rodkey, Coach Mookie, Megan, and Coach G were looking as relieved and excited as I felt. Then I was given a gold watch, took a few pictures and I was back with my coaches and Megan and we were all speechless.

Before I can say much to them, I have to do a few interviews and take a few pictures with the 3000m champion, Emily Lipari. I finally get back to my coaches and Megan and we are all so happy and surprised and I think we were ALL getting our breath back.

We leave the infield and one gift along with my new jersey from my coaches was no cool down!

And now I am getting calls and text messages from all my friends and parents who just watched my race online.

This was another reason this race was so different for to me, my parents rarely miss a meet, but they couldn’t make it to this one and I don’t think they will forgive themselves. It was odd without them, but with everything that happened, they were almost better off just watching it online.

It feels like we just float out of Franklin Field and we are back at the hotel and I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders and I have finally done what I have been hoping to do and fretting about for the past month.

What does a Penn Relays champ get the night of the win? Pizza! I couldn’t ask for anything more. Later that night, talking with the coaches and finding out how they viewed my race, Coach G had an interesting story. He was in the coach’s box when I was coming around for the last 200, he was almost too nervous to watch, but to his surprise he had an unlikely friend, a Jamaican coach who was also in the coach’s box broke the good news that I had won and that it was all OK.

Then I go to bed fairly late that night feeling the best I have in a long time, and so excited to watch the races and sightsee for the next two days in Philadelphia, and also already thinking about my upcoming meets, and the HUGE difference there would be from here on out.

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

I wake up Friday around 9:00am to a good old 40 minute run around the parking lot of my hotel, which probably could not have been more boring but after the night I just had, not even that was going to bring me down.

After we had run, showered and were ready to go, it was time for sightseeing. Our number 1 priority for this day was seeing the Rocky statue and steps. Coach Mookie and I are huge Rocky fans and so is Mr. Rodkey. Coach G, and Megan, so this was definitely an accomplishment.

After we ran up the steps and took all the pictures we could, we went to see the Liberty Bell.

Now you may think that things are going right for our crew and our bad luck has ended, but you would be wrong.

When we are done taking our pictures with the Liberty Bell, we go back to our van and there is a $51 parking ticket on the windshield. We thought we ran over the meter, but no... we... without even noticing, had parked in a bus zone. No wonder we had gotten a parking spot right in front of the door.

It’s amazing none of noticed the sign, but we still blame Mr. Rodkey (he was driving). This ticket plus some unexpectedly expensive meals, led us to just about run out of the money we had budgeted (we hadn’t really planned on the expense of the van breaking down).

After these adventures we go to Franklin Field and watch a few races before Friday’s races are over. Then we return to the hotel, spend a little more money on dinner and buy a deck of cards. We play a few games of Rummy 500 and then it’s time for bed.


Saturday, April 24th, 2010

This morning we get some “bad news”, our old van was not going to be fixed in time for us to take it home and we were going to be taking the rental home and pick up our van someday during the week (Hip Hip Hooray!).

Then we eat breakfast at the hotel and head right over to Franklin Field. By this time Mr.Rodkey has driving around town down pat, as well as parking. We go right in, find our seats up in the nose bleeds and wait for the moment everyone has been waiting for … USAIN!

And I am also a big Allyson Felix fan, so just getting to see her run was huge to me.

But all day I was still getting a few people congratulating me and telling me even though they knew I won, they still felt the need to scream at their computer screens and get quite nervous. Watching my race online later that night proved that I couldn’t really blame them.

But getting to see Usain Bolt sprint was really something. When I was watching the last summer Olympics in Beijing, I never would have dreamed that I would be seeing the fastest man on Earth in person! I think I can speak for my coaches and Megan when I say that they felt the exact same way.

After a long, eventful day at Penn Relays sitting in the sun we left around 3 and were off to eat. We had a fairly smooth trip home, but what I came home to was a surprise party thrown by my friends, Breezy, Skinner, Halie, Jessica, Kayla, and Alexa!

I can’t thank them enough for all the support they have given me and how much they have done for me and how much they do for me, even when they can’t go to my meets.

But I especially have to thank Megan Gaydosh, who saved the day with her AAA card and I don’t know if I could have made it through this weekend without her. She has done a lot for me this season, and I know sometimes she might not want to be dragged around with me but she is there to support me, no matter how good or bad.

After all this I also have to thank my coaches, I wouldn’t know what to do without them and they help me more then they know. I would have to say that I have the coolest coaches in the world. They can make me laugh, but they also know what they are talking about even though it may not seem like it sometimes (I’m just kidding). I love them all to death and without them I don’t know where I would be.