Fallen sol­dier ever present at track and field meet

10th an­niver­sary of Mark Graham Me­mo­rial Track and Field Meet

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - STEVE MILTON

If pic­tures are worth a thou­sand words, Dan Clark doesn’t have to say much to de­scribe Mark Graham to the ath­letes who did not know him.

Clark, who is the pres­i­dent of the 91st High­landers Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion and coached Graham at Sir Al­lan Mac­Nab when the teen was tear­ing up On­tario tracks, is the meet di­rec­tor of the Mark Graham Me­mo­rial Track and Field Meet that turns 10 this week.

The 2017 edi­tion, at which the $1,000 Mark Graham Me­mo­rial Schol­ar­ship will be pre­sented to an ath­lete headed to univer­sity next year, runs at Mo­hawk Sports Com­plex from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thurs­day.

“I al­ways take two pic­tures of Mark to the meet to show the kids,” Clark says. “One in his ser­vice dress uni­form, and one of him in grade 11 or 12 walk­ing down the track after a race. It’s an amaz­ing shot. He al­ways pulled the straps down from his body­suit after he ran. You can see ev­ery mus­cle.

“The kids all go, ‘Oh, my God!’ They might not re­mem­ber him, but word of mouth spreads it. Mark was a spec­i­men, no doubt about it. He was so de­vel­oped. A pic­ture-per­fect body for run­ning. He was per­fect for the 400.”

The 400 me­tres was Graham’s race. While at Mac­Nab he won five OFSAA gold medals, four of them over 400 me­tres. He ran a ter­rific leg for Canada’s 4 x 400 me­tre re­lay team at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. And the boys’ and girls’ in­vi­ta­tional 400 me­tres are the sig­na­ture events of ev­ery Mark Graham Me­mo­rial meet.

Graham, who went to univer­sity at Ne­braska and Kent State on track schol­ar­ships and later en­tered the mil­i­tary, was killed at the age of 33 on Sept. 4, 2006, in Afghanistan, when two Amer­i­can air­craft, mis­tak­ing his pla­toon for Tal­iban in­sur­gents, fired on them.

The stu­dents and staff of Mac­Nab or­ga­nized a track meet in his hon­our, and the first year there were “300 to 400” par­tic­i­pants. The 91st High­landers came on board to help and on Thurs­day there will be as many as 1,400 par­tic­i­pants. Maybe more.

“We knew we had to find a way to keep his name alive and part of the track scene,” Clark says.

“To be hon­est, when it got as far as the sec­ond and third year, I was pleas­antly sur­prised,” says Al­bert Graham, Mark’s fa­ther. “But 10 years? That’s great.

“It’s an ex­cel­lent meet. Over the years I’ve seen so many great young ath­letes. So many of the young peo­ple don’t re­mem­ber Mark, and when they ask the ques­tion, ‘What was he like?’ It makes me feel good.”

Clark, who kept in touch with his for­mer star long after he left Mac­Nab, says Graham was al­ways smil­ing “and he had a great at­ti­tude.”

Part of Graham’s per­son­al­ity is built right into the meet. There are no of­fi­cial en­tries, and ath­letes are en­cour­aged to take part in any event that at­tracts them. Even, and es­pe­cially, one they haven’t tried be­fore.

In last year’s meet 105 rac­ers ran the midget girls’ 100 me­tres.

“We open it right up,” Clark ex­plains. “Mark would have said, ‘Let ev­ery­one do what they want.’”

The only lim­ited races are the Mark Graham 400 me­tre in­vi­ta­tional races, one for boys, one for girls.

Last year, the even­tual Nos. 1, 2 and 4 fin­ish­ers in the OFSAA se­nior girls’ 400 com­peted at the Mark Graham meet.

And this year, Clark has asked an­other ris­ing Hamil­ton sprint star, West­dale’s Miles Misener Daly, to run his first com­pet­i­tive 400.

In full 400-me­tre flight, Graham “was a treat to watch,” said Clark.

“It was a re­laxed style with power. He had a very easy way of run­ning. I don’t want to make a com­par­i­son at all, but think of (Al­berto) Juan­torena, the great Cuban 800-me­tre run­ner. Well, there’s Mark, but in the 400.”

Graham’s par­ents, Linda Learn and Al­bert Graham, have over the years spent time with many young track and field ath­letes at the meet named in hon­our of their son.

“A fewer older ones say: ‘Your son mo­ti­vated me when I was in Grade 3,’” Al­bert Graham says. “It makes us feel good.

“When we watch the races, there might be one or two who re­mind us of the way Mark used to run. It brings back good mem­o­ries, and then it brings back, ‘Oh he’s not here.’

“I think he should be here at this meet, just to see what peo­ple think of him.”

HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR FILE PHOTO

Graham, show­ing the power and form that made him an Olympian, in a May 1991 file photo com­pet­ing for Mac­Nab.

HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR FILE PHOTO

Mark Graham was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2006.

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