By Benjamin Kelly
Runners and walkers will be able to resume training on the indoor track at the Roman Gingerich Recreation-Fitness Center within the coming days.
The RFC staff officially closed the track on Sept. 17 with a pledge to complete the track rehabilitation by Sept 28. The college had been hoping to have the track ready for the start of the school year.
According to Josh Keister, the director of the Recreation and Fitness Center, the project was delayed because the company that won the bid to complete the upgrades experienced several setbacks throughout the process.
The current track, which was installed when the building was erected in 1993, was designed for walking and recreational use; however, Goshen College athletes and community users report having experienced joint and ligament discomfort.
“It was a very low cost surface that was installed at the time of construction, and the training needs of athletes call for a surface that has more cushioning and resilience,” said Doug Yoder, who is in his eighth year of coaching cross-country and second year as track and field coach.
The new track material should meet these needs. The track is designed with an open grid on the bottom to allow for more relief for the body during activity, while at the same time providing thickness and buoyancy on the surface to allow for maximum support.
The improvements to the track have been considered for several years, but in competition with other upgrades on campus, the track never rose to a top-level priority.
“I have worked at getting the track resurfaced for the last eight years,” Yoder said, “but there was not money available to do it, and it was also not seen as important enough to address.”
As long as the original track was in place, Goshen College athletes never had a feasible facility to train indoors.
“We have not been able to train our track athletes to the full extent they we would like because of the potential for injury because of the inadequate surface that was originally installed,” Yoder said.
Maple Leaf runners and race walkers believe the track will allow them to continue training during the winter months.
“I expect the distance athletes to utilize the track more this winter because of the softer, more cushioned surface,” said Jake Gunderkline, a senior All-American race walker. “Coach Yoder has said that he’ll feel more comfortable increasing the amount of workouts on the track because the new surface will decrease pounding on the legs and, therefore, reduce the risk of injury.”
Yoder said, “We have had many leg and ankle injuries over the last five to eight years because of the hard surface of the track.”
But those injuries are presumed to be a sore memory of the past as the new surface should bring immediate relief.
“I think all members of the track team will notice a higher level of comfort,” Gunderkline said.
Keister described the material as “varsity competition quality” and noted that it will be a lot more forgiving.
The track had been used for conference competitions in the past, but home indoor meets were halted because of the track surface. The refurbished track is expected to be certified by the United States Association of Track and Field and be eligible for more competitions.
“We also host the Maple Leaf Indoor Marathons the end of February, which has become a national event,” Yoder said. “I already have entries from as far away as Louisiana and expect the two marathons to be filled by the beginning of December.”
Gunderkline mentioned that he has trained on material similar to the new surface to be installed at the RFC, and he said he was eager to take advantage of the material.
“I have raced and trained on other tracks that are similar to what the RFC’s new track will be like and I am looking forward to the increased comfort that comes with this type of surface.” he said.
All this comfort comes at a price. The RFC previously had hoped the project would be finished prior to students returning on campus this fall; but this was not the case.
“The project was supposed to be done late July but the company that was awarded the bid has encountered several delays during the production of the necessary materials,” said Keister.
Gunderkline said, “It is unfortunate that the process was not completed before school started and during the less chaotic time of the year.”
Heavy construction is taking place elsewhere at the Recreation-Fitness Center. In keeping with the college’s decision to close the swimming pool, workers recently hauled away cement flooring and filled the pool with dirt.
“Because of [the track’s] close proximity to the pool closing, I was concerned for many of the community patrons who might not appreciate all of the changes in such a short span,” Gunderkline said. “Fortunately, they have very understanding and I, as a front desk worker, appreciate their patience with the issue.”
Gunderkline the runner is eager to see the track completed..
“The track will look much nicer,” he said, “no matter how it feels.”
The track is scheduled to be completely finished by early next week.