A Labor Of Love Brings DC Speed To AAU Junior Olympic Games


By Taylor Dutch, FloTrack

To get her team to the AAU Junior Olympic Games, Cynthia McEwen transported 64 kids from ages six to 18 across 520 miles of Rust Belt interstate. She booked hotel rooms, rented four passenger vans, and oversaw a $15,000 budget.

But here's the craziest detail of all: the money to fund the trip didn't exist until the day before the team's departure. 

When I spoke to McEwen on the phone on Friday during her drive from Washington, D.C. to Ypsilanti, Michigan, she wasn't complaining, and she wasn't bragging. She was making the nine-hour drive with the athletes and volunteer coaches who make up the DC Speed Track Club. McEwen was proud and relieved. 

"The kids are so excited," she said. "Everything that it takes to get them there is so well worth it."

After eight years with the team and three as president, McEwen is used to logistical puzzles like this. Leading the charge in funding and executing trips is part of the job description -- she recalled a trip to Houston three years earlier which logged 25 hours of driving time. 

This year, however, was particularly special for DC Speed as the team had the most Junior Olympic qualifiers in its nine-year history. 

"After (AAU) regionals, [the staff] looked at each other and went, 'Oh my gosh! We've got double the number of kids that we expected . . . we've got to figure something out and fast!" she said.

Most years, DC Speed has 25-30 kids qualify out of the regional meet for the AAU Junior Olympic Games. This year, 64 of the 107 competitors earned spots to compete at the championship. The staff was forced to double everything: the hotels, the transportation, the snacks. Luckily, the regional qualifier was on June 22-25, which gave McEwen and the staff a month to find a solution. 

There was just one problem. 

In years past, DC Speed received funding from the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, a department that was -- McEwen explained -- going through a managerial restructure. This year, the department said they wouldn't fund DC Speed. So McEwen had to start over, to show that her club was worth the investment. 

To convince them, she told the truth. She talked about the team's impact on the community. Prior to DC Speed, the only youth track clubs were out in the suburbs, which severely limited the opportunities for kids who lived in the city. 

The Department of Parks and Recreation then began promoting track and field more aggressively after seeing athletic programs disappearing at city schools. Since the club started nine years ago, the amount of participants has grown tremendously. Four years ago, there were 12 athletes registered for indoor season. This year, there were 170.

Most importantly, McEwen argued, the program prides itself on being an all-inclusive, family atmosphere. 

"This gave [the kids] a team in the city to call their own," McEwen said. "Our motto is one city, one team. I don't think that [the founders] ever imagined that this program would take hold the way that it did."

After a few months of back and forth with Parks and Recreation, McEwen finally received the news. On Thursday -- with one day remaining before the team had to leave for the meet -- they allocated funds to pay for the club's hotel charges, rental cars, a team dinner, and snacks throughout the meet. 

The intense labor of love paid off for the 64 kids who earned a place on the starting line of their biggest championship to date. And it happened because of a stellar team of track-loving volunteers. 

"Getting a group of people together and saying, 'Look, we're not going to pay you, it's going to be a lot of hours essentially herding cats and giving up your Saturdays, but this is what we can offer you,'" McEwen said with a laugh. "Still, every year we have people say, 'This is awesome and there is nowhere else I'd rather be.' It really speaks volumes of our team."