Sometimes, it’s nice to sit back and watch.
Among the throngs of fans that gather at Franklin Field every year to watch the Penn Relays, there is a small but vocal Penn contingent to support the home athletes. The Red and Blue's current athletes that don't compete at the meet are there to support their teammates in the spotlight, and many alumni of the track and field program also make the trip back to Philadelphia.
For many of these current and former athletes, the Penn Relays is the high point of the outdoor season; the high caliber of competition, variety of events, and an electric home stadium full of boisterous fans make it unlike any other event.
For Rachel Hlatky, a Penn sprinter from the class of 2016, this year marked her first time back at the Relays since she competed for the Red and Blue.
“It’s exciting as usual,” she said. “It’s good to be back and to see all the Penn athletes and just be among the people from across the world. It’s an indescribable experience, especially on Saturday just because you have thousands of people here. Even just being on the home turf and running your best time, it’s the greatest feeling when you can do it in front of everyone.”
This year’s Penn Relays was the first for freshmen distance runners Zak Ahmad and Niamh Hayes, and though neither competed, their experience was one to remember.
“It’s cool to see everyone here out on your home track, just so excited to watch all the races here. It makes you proud,” said Ahmad. “It’s been great just watching my teammates and cheering everyone on.”
“There’s a lot of energy here, a lot of Penn pride, so that’s pretty exciting,” Hayes agreed.
Fans flock to the Relays from all over the world, including an always massive group from the Caribbean. For some races, the chants of “Ja-mai-ca!” and the noise of horns make even the spirited “U-S-A!” sound faint. The audience is truly an international one.
When asked about the best part of the Penn Relays, one answer stood out among current and former athletes: the contagious energy.
“The amount of people that show up and how excited they are to see each event and how that’s such a visible energy here,” Hayes said. “You get excited because everyone else is excited, too, so that’s awesome.”
“The energy of this meet is unmatchable,” said Gillian Berger, a jumper for the Quakers who graduated in 2016.
Hlatky and Berger were just two of many past athletes from Penn in the stands. For some, the Relays are the one time a year to reunite with old teammates and spend time together in a familiar setting.
“It’s our favorite weekend of the year; we have alumni from six years after they graduated coming back for this meet and we’re all going to dinner together tonight,” said class of 2016 sprinter Taylor Hennig. “The Penn track community is strong.”
Director of Track and Field Steve Dolan added to Hennig’s message of unity.
“We call it the Penn track and field family," he said. “It really grows because you add the alumni that come back and support the team, so it’s kind of a big party for us to have everybody together. It’s great, the culture and the camaraderie of the whole Penn track group is at an all-time high, and it’s very exciting.”
Whether current athletes or ex-Quakers, anyone can appreciate the thrilling competition taking place over these three days.
Even for those athletes not competing, the Relays are a time to simply appreciate the sport and the community that comes with it.