Before Joe Gauthier steps into the blocks, he flashes a big smile.
The Hanford senior, who is one of the top sprinters in the state, isn’t being arrogant, nor is he trying to intimidate the competition. He’s simply remembering his friend, Gavin Slack, another standout Hanford athlete who took his own life Jan. 5, 2016.
“It’s helps remind me who I’m running for,” Gauthier said. “It makes it easier. This year, he’s my motivation to really do anything. Our goal was to run together in college. He’s not here with me anymore, so I have to do it myself.”
Gauthier and Slack met at Tapteal Elementary School in West Richland, and their friendship was instant. From that point on, they were like two peas in a pod, playing football, running track and just hanging out together.
We were like ... you couldn’t break us apart. We were always with each other, doing something. It’s a huge adjustment with him gone. It sucks. I wore his number (17) in football and that really helped me through the season. He’s not here in person anymore, but he’s here in my head and will always be in my heart.
Joe Gautheir, on his friend and teammate Gavin Slack, who died Jan. 5, 2016
“We were like ... you couldn’t break us apart,” Gauthier said. “We were always with each other, doing something. It’s a huge adjustment with him gone. It sucks. I wore his number (17) in football and that really helped me through the season. He’s not here in person anymore, but he’s here in my head and will always be in my heart.”
What has haunted Gauthier the most is that as well as he knew Slack, he never sensed there was anything wrong. And that his best friend felt he couldn’t confide in him.
“It’s on my mind every day,” Gauthier said of still trying to figure out the why. “I always think about him. You couldn’t even tell the slightest thing was bugging him. He always brought a smile, even on his worst days. Trying to make that one person worse than him make them laugh or make them smile.”
Gauthier does take solace in hoping that his friend is at peace.
“I hope so,” he said. “I visit our favorite place (Top of the Universe, by the Yokes in West Richland) as much as I can.”
Marked for life
Without his best friend by his side last spring, Gauthier wrote Slack’s name on his arms and “RIP” on his wrist for track meets. This spring, Gauthier is sporting a different type of ink.
On the inside of his right biceps, there is a tattoo in honor of Slack. The image has a track shoe with wings, with Gavin Slack written at the top of the image and 1999 and 2016 below. On his right shoulder and triceps, there is a cross and a ribbon emblazoned with ‘Family is Everything’ wrapped around the cross.
“I will always have him with me,” Gauthier said.
With an angel on his shoulder, Gauthier has had a spectacular start to the track season, which he hopes to continue at Saturday’s Pasco Invite.
He posted a 10.96-second 100-meter time in a three-team meet March 30, then posted a personal best 21.96 in the 200 meters April 8 at the Davis Invite.
His times still are behind Ben Kelly’s school records of 10.69 in the 100 and 21.5 in the 200, but Gauthier is bound and determined to make those records his own before the end of the season.
“I’m chasing him down,” Gauthier said of Kelly, who runs track at Iowa State. “To have numbers that beat his would go a long way in getting a track scholarship.”
Gauthier does have his name attached to one school record — the 4x100 relay team that posted a 42.90 at the regional meet May 23, 2015. On the team with Gauthier were Slack, Mateo Valadez and Kevon Skinner.
To help prepare for the track season, Gauthier, Valadez and Brayden Meyer hit the indoor circuit over the winter, competing in meets at Washington State University and Boise State.
“My first 60 (meters) is stronger, and my finish is stronger too,” Gauthier said of the extra work.
Though Gauthier has the top 200 time among 4A runners this spring, and the third-best 100 time, he never steps on the track believing he already has the race won.
“Since I don’t have anyone in front of me, I always try to picture someone in front of me, or just try to get further and further away from the guys behind me,” he said. “It’s fun. I love coming out here and running. I love when people look up to me or compliment me on my sprinting. It makes me feel good and it makes me want to do better.”
With his best friend tagging along for the ride.
56th Annual Pasco Invite
When: 9:30 a.m., Saturday
Where: Edgar Brown Stadium, Pasco
Admission: $8 adults/$6 students and seniors
Who: More than 1,400 athletes from more than 100 schools will compete. Athletes must meet the minimum standards to compete, and each school may enter just one athlete per event. Each event is limited to the top 45 entrants.
Results: Results can be found at jcrawford.net during the meet. New technology is being used to post the results as soon as they are verified.