Once a bridge runner

By Chris Wendel

Growing up east of Lockport, New York along the Erie Canal, an unusual district configuration planted us in the Royalton-Hartland Central School System (Roy Hart). We traveled daily down the canal nine miles away from Lockport to Middleport for high school .

I remember occasionally running the 9 miles or so along the towpath to school, while training for track and cross country. The soft surface of the towpath was named after the mules (remember Sal?) that pulled the packet boats along the canal (filled with lumber, coal, and hay). Long after the canal served as the nations’ major route to the expanding west, the towpath remained and is now part of one of the longest contiguous trail systems in the country.

The towpath was also a great surface for track and cross-country training runs. Our coaches would simply tell us which canal bridge to run to (and return). For example “Hurdles Bridge and back” meant a relatively easy four mile tempo run, while Peet Street meant a long slow ten mile run. Some of us started a tradition on slapping one hand on the cement abutment of each bridge we passed under, marking off another leg of a long day’s work.

I was never much of a contributor to Roy Hart’s track success, but the school was a dominant high school track program in the 1970’s, with times and distances that could compete with most of region’s larger schools. Regardless of the varying levels of talent, those Roy Hart days provided a work ethic and appreciation for running that many of us took with us into our adult lives.

So it was interesting to read a recent story about Vincent Donner a current Roy-Hart student who was the surprise winner at the  Beast of Burden 24-Hour Ultra Run. The ultra-marathon started in Lockport consisting of 25 mile laps along the canal towpath, to Middleport and back. Donner entered as a relative unknown and finished his 100 miles (four laps in 22 hours, 50 minutes and 41 seconds).

Whie his winning performance evoked a certain “Who is that guy?” quality for many seasoned runners,  it was good to hear of a new running hero from Roy-Hart, especially one who knows those canal bridges as well we did.

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  1. Bill Spencer
    September 3, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Hey Chris,
    As a 4 year Letterman on the Roy-Hart Varsity track team (1966-1970), the team not only dominated Sectional 6 but most of Central and Western New York from the early/mid 60s and carried through much of the 70s. Each year the team was expected to win the N-O League championship and finish in the top 3 Team Standings in the Sectional meet. The goal was always, “how many members would qualify/compete in the annual State Track Meet”. In 1967, Roy-Hart had more team members compete in the State Track meet at the State University at Stony Brook than any other high school in the entire state. Individual team members competed in the 440 yard dash, pole vault, and mile medley team. Another team member was part of the Section 6 Mile relay team that finished 3rd in State.
    Roy-Hart not only dominated local area high school track, but also won three N-O Football championships (1967, 1968, and 1969) and the 1968-69 Basketball team won the N-O League and Section 6 Championship.

    • cwendel
      September 3, 2010 at 8:07 pm

      Bill,

      Thanks so much for providing your first hand frame of reference. You were one of athletes that we looked up to coming up through the Roy-Hart system. It’s safe to say that the era referenced was the high point of Roy-Hart sports history, and one that few now involved with the school might recognize.

      Coincidentially the Roy-Hart football team opens its season tonight after almost disbanding during the off-sesaon due to budget issues (Roy-Hart’s Boosters raised $20,312 to save the sport after budget cuts) and having its head coach recover from recent bypass surgery.

    • cwendel
      May 19, 2011 at 12:27 am

      Bill,

      I recently found this link to RH track records that I thought you would be of interest. I believe there are some minor flaws with names, but I’m thinking most of it is accurate: http://www.royhart.org/Athletics/track%20&%20field/Boys_V.PDF

      Chris Wendel

  2. rich kempton '72
    May 23, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    oh yea, fondly remember those days…and if it was too hot to run…then just jumped off of one of those bridges to cool down…

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