Tomorrow evening, a different sort of team will take the track. Runners will be racing not for high school or college pride, but rather as representatives of the companies that employ them.
The tradition began 24 years ago, when 1975 College graduate and former Penn trackster Stew Beltz began organizing the Corporate Relays in 1986. Recognizing the lack of an event highlighting regular, working adults he suggested the event to then-Penn Relays Director Jim Tuppeny.
“In this country there’s not a whole lot of outlets for people to compete after the college level, unless they’re national caliber — and very few folks are. But there is a little segment of folks who do corporate track for their employer just as a recreational activity,” Beltz said.
“And I thought, well, the greatest track meet in the country is the Penn Relays — they ought to have a corporate event because the competitors would probably be better than anyone else.”
While Tuppeny initially rejected the offer, he relented when Beltz suggested the event be used as a revenue-generating device. Today, for example, the entrance fee is $200 per team as opposed to the $35 fee for most other relay events.
Thus, the Corporate Distance Medley was born and has increased in popularity each year. Tomorrow night, 26 teams representing 17 different companies will line up for the race.
The corporate affiliations are not all that set this race apart. Each four-person team must have at least one female runner and one master — a competitor over 40 years old.
“It was really put in place by design to reflect the diversity of the workplace,” Beltz said. “We’ve had all female teams, we’ve had all masters teams” — this year’s AT&T; team, for example, will consist of four 50-year-olds.
“By having a minimum of a female and a master on every team, you’re guaranteed to have some diversity on every team,” he continued. “It reflects the workplace, it reflects more of a cross-section and you’re not just looking at another race.”
Each company has a different method of selecting its racers, from time trials to self-submitted times to reputation. Likewise, the companies’ times vary greatly. Generally, the best teams post speeds comparable to high school or college women.
Not all the runners are Average Joes, however. Steve Holman, a 1992 Olympian, ran for Vanguard in 2005 and helped his team to a second-place finish.
As for this year’s favorite, Beltz suggests the nine-time champions and representatives from the world’s largest company: General Electric. They will look to win the relay for the third consecutive year.
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