Q&A: Penn Hills runner invited to compete at Aussie track tournament
Robin Hall, 17, already has a strong resume heading into his senior year as a track-and-field runner for Penn Hills High School.
Last season, Hall qualified for the WPIAL championships at Baldwin High School and brought home two top-eight finishes in the 200- and 400-meter races.
Hall is hoping to add “international track-and-field competitor” to his list of accomplishments, after being invited to participate in the Down Under Sports track-and-field competition, which will take place this summer on Australia's Gold Coast.
When he's not training, Hall will keep busy working to raise money to help fund his trip. If he attends, he will be part of the North Central Conference team, which includes runners from Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia.
Robert Goodell, a recruiter with Down Under Sports, said Hall was chosen based on his accomplishments.
“We look at state, district and regional statistics to see what athletes have accomplished, and we use that to make sort of a master list,” he said.
After paring down the list, Goodell said, Down Under Sports invites athletes to participate and if they accept, they begin the fundraising process. Hall said he will need to raise about $8,000 to attend and compete.
Penn Hills track coach Lee Zelkowitz got to know Hall last year, when Hall transferred from Woodland Hills High School as a junior.
“Besides being a great athlete, he's just a great, great kid,” Zelkowitz said.
“He listens well and is a real intelligent kid. He did very well last year, medaling at the WPIALS and qualifying for states.”
Hall said he wants to begin the extremely rigorous training process to try and secure a spot on one of the next two U.S. Olympic track teams.
“I think he has the mentality to do it, because it takes a lot more than just the hard work to make it,” Zelkowitz said.
“You really have to dedicate yourself to do it, and I think he's got the right mindset for that.”
Hall said he enjoys the independence that running track offers him.
“Unless you're running a relay, the sport is independent,” he said. “Running is a stress reliever, a way for me to get away from it all and get into a zone.”
Hall said credit is due to his parents for their love and support, to his Penn Hills coaches, Lee Zelkowitz and Carlson Christian, to his teammates for pushing him in practice every day, and to God.
“My motto is, ‘With him, all things; without him, nothing,'” Hall said.
Hall spoke with the Progress about Down Under Sports, preparing for a major international track meet, and his strong desire to swim with sharks:
Q: Outside of the competition itself, what are you most looking forward to about visiting Australia?
A: I am most looking forward to seeing what Australia is like. I've seen shows on television about Australia. The culture, the animals, the language, everything interested me. Plus, there will be an opportunity to swim with sharks, and that is something that I have dreamed of doing.
Q: One of the requirements for participation is raising funds to offset the cost of the trip — what is your fundraising goal, and how are you going about it?
A: The goal for my fundraising is $8,000. Posting this article is one way for me to raise funds. It is my hope that everyone who reads this will contact me to offer their support. Down Under Sports provides sponsorship letters for all of the athletes to solicit sponsors. … As a way of helping the athletes with their fundraising, Down Under Sports is giving away a free trip to Australia and Hawaii as well as a five-day Caribbean cruise for two people. Anyone who donates money towards me and my team will receive a thank-you ticket for their contribution which can be mailed to “Down Under Sports” and they will be entered into both drawings. I have asked family, friends and church members to sponsor me. I will reach out to churches and businesses in my community. I have formed a fundraising committee. We are brainstorming on the best fundraising ideas. Since I am representing my community, state and country, I will reach out to politicians at all of these levels for support. I am willing to shovel snow, wash cars or even have a Penny Bowl-A-Thon.
Q: What is the biggest challenge for you when it comes to running track?
A: The thought that anything could happen at any time. I could be having the best race of my life, and then all of a sudden pull a hamstring or fall and the season or my career may be over. This makes me not take any race for granted, because I know at any moment, any race could be my last, so I have to run like it's my last, every time.
Q: One of your goals is to compete at the 2016 or 2020 Olympics - in addition to competing at Down Under Sports, what other things are you doing to work toward that goal?
A: First, my parents and I are searching for someone who will be serious about training/coaching me. I need to learn more about strengthening and conditioning. Secondly, I pay attention to my diet and the amount of sleep that I get. Thirdly, I run every day. I am also considering colleges that have Division I or I-AA track teams.
Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or firstname.lastname@example.org.