Richland runners take grass track to success

May 21, 2014 

If you drive down Wellsian Way on Sundays in the spring, chances are you’ve seen Dr. Johnathan R. Perry mowing the grass.

He doesn’t live on the street, but rather has built a unique grass track on Carmichael Middle School’s football field to help the Richland High track team have a place to train.

A 300-meter oval is cut into the field, carefully marked with different intervals and clearly defined lanes, giving the middle distance athletes plenty of room to run.

“We are trying to prevent shin splints and have (kids’) legs stronger and well rested by the end of the year,” said Perry, an orthopedic surgeon for Tri-City Orthopaedics. “They have learned to like it for the feel of it. They are slower on it, but it is a little psychological advantage when they go to the other track — they feel faster and their legs are faster from running on this.”

The Bombers runners have said they have noticed a difference and will put that to the test Friday and Saturday at the Class 4A Eastern Washington regional track and field meet at Edgar Brown Stadium in Pasco.

Perry, who is a volunteer coach with the track team, got the idea from a story he saw in the Wall Street Journal about a grass track used on the island of Grenada.

The tiny Caribbean nation had its Olympic training track destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, so the coach at the time built a grass track. Grenada slowly started developing a strong 400-meter program, despite having a population of just 110,000. It culminated with a gold medal in the event at the 2012 London Olympics.

Perry figured the idea might work in Richland because of the shin splints a lot of kids develop — and because his daughter, Lauren, has had leg issues as well.

He spent 30 to 40 hours building the course. Some folks from Meadow Springs Country Club came out and used their heavy rollers to help flatten the course to prevent potential ankle sprains, and Perry spends 8-10 hours a week maintaining it.

“At the beginning of the year, I was confused as to how it would work,” Richland junior Geoffrey DeShazo said. “I tried it out and I like it a lot better, because it is easier on my legs. It also mixes up how you run, because it is only 300 meters.

“(My legs) are fresher. I have had shin splints before and I still have them, but they don’t hurt as bad as in the past.”

DeShazo will compete in the 800 meters and the 4x400 relay this weekend. He is one of about 10 athletes who consistently trains with Perry on the grass surface.

Lauren Perry has struggled with injuries throughout her high school career, including missing the cross country season last fall because of surgery.

“I hadn’t had an injury-free season,” said Lauren Perry, who is qualified in the 800, 1,600, 3,200 and a relay this weekend. “I think it is helping me stay healthier. When you try to run the same times on the grass track as the normal track, it is harder. So running on the normal track seems easier.”

Perry is hoping it pays off with a successful regional weekend and potentially a state title. She finished second as a sophomore in the 800 and figured plenty more state success would be headed her way.

But a painful issue in her lower leg has made training difficult. She had surgery after track season in 2013, causing her to miss cross country. She eventually began training again and has run some of the best times in her high school career this spring.

She signed to compete at the University of Florida and hopes to get under 4 minutes, 50 seconds in the mile in the next two weeks.

“I feel really fortunate,” she said. “A lot can happen in college. A lot of girls that are really good in high school die out. The girls that aren’t so good, that haven’t put in a lot of miles, are awesome in college. I’m anxious to see what can happen in college (for me).”

Before she becomes a member of the Gators, though, she has some business to take care of this weekend and next.

w Craig Craker: 582-1509; ccraker@tricityherald.com

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