December 2022 - Paul Westbrook Running Retirement
After 40 straight years of competing in corporate track I’ve decided to hang up my spikes. I’ve struggled with the decision for a few months, but it feels like the right time. I’ve watched other great team members do it over the years - some bowing out gracefully while still performing well, some going out with injuries they couldn’t overcome, and everything in between. The past 3 years have been a challenge. A few foot issues have limited my training. The speed is there, but the conditioning has been missing. I managed to win events in the 2020 and 2021 virtual meet, and the 2022 meet in Maine. But I was barely holding together with a poor base of conditioning. The Maine meet was my 40th straight year of competing in corporate track, and it just feels like the right time to stop.
I never ran track or participated in any organized sports before coming to TI. I always just played in the street with my friends. I was always fast, but our high school coach didn’t like “band nerds” and wouldn’t let me split practice days between track & band. In my 2nd month at TI back in 1983 I saw an article in the monthly TI Dallasite newspaper about the team. I called Coach Rio and went out to practice on a cold day in early March. The only shoes I had were basketball high tops. Rio had me warm up and run a 200m, and the time was good. He said to run a second one, but I had nothing left. He connected me with a couple of other team members for workouts, but they were too advanced and I quit showing up. I came back out for the Dallas Regional Meet and ran a 200m leg of a race on one of the TI Teams - we had three teams (Red, White, and Blue) at the regional. The next year I did the same thing.
In 1985 I got a call from a couple of team members in January. They invited me to run hills with them every Monday starting in February. We would run this long, steep 700m hill, then jog back down and run it again. Those guys could do multiple repeats and over time I worked up to their level. Dave Riley and James Vicks were great guys, and hard workers, and they showed me the value of hard work. When the weather warmed James Vicks and I started going to SMU with Nick Forlenza. We sprinted - hard. 3x300m with 5 minute recovery - at full speed in track spikes. It was hard work, but they were great guys and made it fun. I was building my capacity and my speed.
Making the national team back then was a challenge. We had time trials and cuts. There weren’t any 100m races, and just a couple of 200m legs. You had to run a 400m leg to make the team. Thanks to the training I ran a 50.5 second 400m and made the national team. At All Comers Meets I ran an 11.1 100m and 23.1 200m too. I went to the national meet at UCLA and it was wild. There were dozens of teams and many great sprinters. Our two sprint teams didn’t even reach the finals despite having me running 51 seconds and Nick running 49 seconds. That’s how crazy fast everyone was.
In 1986 I made my first trip to the Houston Regional Meet and anchored the 3 lap sprint team. I got the baton almost even with a guy from Chevron. We ran together for about 300 meters, then my training kicked in and I left him for the home stretch. That was despite wearing and extra large singlet (we didn’t have very good uniforms then) and having to keep pulling it back on my shoulder while running. I returned to the national meet and we made a final, but didn’t get a medal.
I didn’t win any national medals in 1985, 86, 87, 88, or 89. Our teams had talent, but had some back luck with injuries, baton drops, and other bad breaks. In 1990, the year I turned 30, I anchored our 4x200m relay (40+ male, 50+ male, open female, and open male). We had great people that fit those age groups. We won by a large margin and set a record for my first national medal - a gold one. That record would only be broken almost a decade later with two pro athletes working part time for Qwest.
4 X 200 M 40+ 22.8 BRICE, ZACK
4 X 200 M 50+ 24.4 DEATHERAGE, TONY
4 X 200 F Open 25.4 HAYNES, PORTIA
4 X 200 M Open 22.7 WESTBROOK, PAUL
1:36.2 1st Place
About that time I started to get a good feel of all the races and would help Coach Rio optimize our event lineups at the meets. A few years later they would add a third division for companies between 10,000-60,000 employees. Prior to that it was only big (10,000+) and small (<10,000). Some large companies had over 300,000 employees. After winning no titles since 1981, the TI Team won the team title in 1995 and 1996 in the new mid sized division. We finished 2nd in 1997, 98, and 99. In 1998 Rio was retiring from TI and asked me to become the team captain. He thought it was important to have an active TI employee as the captain. Fortunately, Rio, who has been at every meet since 1979, stayed on as a coach and athlete on the team. And he’s still going. We’ve been an almost inseparable pair, and his coaching has been a key part of our success over the years.
It took a couple of years to boost recruiting and get the team back up to a really strong level, but we went to the meet in 2000 with a strong team and hopes for a team title, despite Qwest’s Olympic Athlete support programs. One of their runners, Kevin Little, won the world indoor 200m championship that very year - and he was running for Qwest. The meet went down to the wire, but TI captured the team title - and we would go on to win 12 straight titles. There were close calls over the years, but we always had the training, strategy, and heart to pull out the team victory.
In 2001 we set the 4x100m relay record and it’s never been broken.
4 x 100 Relay 13.0 100 F 40 Iba, Elaine
4 x 100 Relay 12.3 100 F Open Scurlock, Chepelle
4 x 100 Relay 12.5 100 M 40 Westbrook, Paul
4 x 100 Relay 10.4 100 M Open Sarpong, Benjamin
4 x 100 Relay Result 1st Official 48:17
Also, in late 2001 TI selected me as their representative to carry the Olympic Torch in the 2002 Winter Olympics Torch Relay. That was an amazing experience.
2002 was an eventful year for me. I was elected to the USCAA Hall of Fame joining several other TI team members. I feel so fortunate that my introduction speech was given by Tony Deatherage. Rio is a great coach. I’m a good strategist, planner, and organizer. Tony was the heart and soul of our team. His passion, enthusiasm, and love of the sport of track was infectious. It was also the longest introduction speech in the history of the USCAA.
Later that same day, after my induction, I suffered the worst injury of my 40 years of running. Coming into the final handoff of the 4x100m relay I had to slow slightly to not hit our outgoing runner. That slight step change caused my hamstring to blow out and it dropped me flat on the track. I made the exchange while going to the ground - the outgoing runner didn’t even know I went down.
Also, in 2002 I formed the first TI Team for the Richardson Corporate Challenge. We pulled together captains and athletes for the 21 events and ended up in a 1st place tie for the team title. We would go on to win it for 6 more times, and finished 2nd one year by a single point. After 2009 I retired from Corporate Challenge due to burn out - it was just too much. I handed off to others who kept it going for many of the subsequent years. Here's my old TI RCC results page: https://enerjazz.com/rcc/index_results.htm
2003 was almost the end of my running. I struggled to recover from the hamstring tear. And then I found PT Dale Smith. Dale used to travel with Michael Johnson and take care of him while Michael was setting world records and winning Olympic medals. In one visit to his office he successfully diagnosed and fixed the issue. The tear and fall had misaligned my hips putting strain on all my upper leg muscles - on both legs. A heating pad and some pushing/pulling by Dale got me squared up and I was back on the road to sprinting again.
We kept winning titles and 2004 was the 2nd most exciting meet, just behind the 2000 meet. The national meet was in Maine and we were behind UNUM (on their home turf) and needed to win the final 3 events to win the team title. We shuffled a few people to optimize those last three, and the team performed amazingly well - and we did it. We called it The Miracle in Maine.
My next record came in 2010 when they added some individual 200m legs at the track meet and I set the age 50+ record at 26.36. That stood for a couple of years.
After our 12th straight track title in 2011, the USCAA eliminated the mid sized division, so we moved back up against the big teams like AT&T and GE. We held our own with a 3rd place, 2nd place, and 2nd place finish. In 2014 they announced it would be the final USCAA National Track Meet due to declining attendance. We set one more team record in the Seniors Plus Relay that year:
Senior's Relay 200 M 00:28.3 60+ 60 Pappermaster, Barry
Senior's Relay 400 M 01:01.3 50+ 50 Cannon, David
Senior's Relay 200 F 00:34.2 50+ 52 Phillips, Sheri
Senior's Relay 600 M 01:32.1 50+ 50 Luo, Luke
Senior's Relay 400 M 01:01.8 50+ 54 Westbrook, Paul
Total- 04:37.7 1st new national record
We returned to the Houston Regional meet starting in 2015 and took 2nd, 1st, 1st, 3rd, and 1st over the next 5 years. When the pandemic shut things down we had strong participation in the virtual meets in 2020 and 2021. We did very well in those meets and won the team relay title over all other teams - even the large companies.
Then, for my final running year we sent some people up to Maine to supplement the Portland, ME TI employees. I won the 100m and we smashed the record for the 60-69 4x100 relay.
What an incredible 4 decades of running. I learned much from the people I mentioned above and several others. If you ever heard a Bo Johnson speech the night before a meet, then you know that we are indeed a family. I have many long time friends from my years of running on this team. It’s time to hang up the spikes, but I’ll still be helping the tri-captains behind the scenes. Depending on our camper van travel schedule I might come out to practices and/or the meets to help any way I can.
The story above is long, but if you are still reading, there are several lessons:
1. Just come out and try. - I never ran track before and now I have for 40 years and have countless medals and several national records.
2. Don’t quit too quickly - Persevere. I almost quit a couple of times until I found the right training partners.
3. Find a training buddy - Both of you will benefit. I made many great friends via the team.
4. Be a team player - Do whatever the team needs most. I dislike the 400, but the team needed that leg, so I trained hard to run it.
5. Be a good sport - Be a humble winner, and gracious when you don’t win. I made many friends with people I competed against over the years.
6. Be healthy - Every winter I would start to put on some weight, then in Jan I would start doing some base work in anticipation of track season. I still weigh about the same as I did 40 years ago because track season always served as a motivator to exercise.