Raghav Kadambi’s Tribute to James Blackburn: The Blackburn Way

Photo courtesy of Raghav Kadambi

By Raghav Kadambi

I walked slowly to my track practice feeling numb on the inside. The heartbreaking news, that Coach Jim Blackburn had passed away was announced after school by Coach Shawn Wallace. I decided that in memory of times spent with Coach, I would redo the first ever workout that I did with the Newton North track team – Highland hills. I started up the hill putting every bit of energy I had into each stride, I could literally hear Coach Blackburn’s voice bellowing, “Too slow!” and then that famous line of his, “Get up there!”. When I reached the top of the hill panting, I stood there for a minute to regain my breath and looked around taking in my surroundings. All the memories flooded into my head. I sat on my haunches at the side of the street thinking of the profound effect that my freshman year in track with Coach Blackburn had on my life.

As an incoming freshman in November 2016, I came onto the Newton North Track team not sure what to expect. Of course, I had heard many stories about how grueling the workouts were, and the amazing winning streak that the Team had kept up for 19 years – all credited to the demanding Coach. The biggest worry on my mind was whether I could keep up with the team and find a spot for myself. After the first few days of practice, I realized that Blackburn was a coach whose respect was earned through hard work, and once he acknowledged you as a runner, you knew that he forever had your back. I was consumed with the desire to keep getting better in track. Blackburn pushed us all to be the best runners that we could be at every race, all of us as a team trusted him implicitly. Coach Blackburn instilled that devotion and passion for performance in each of us. That first winter of indoor practice with him changed my life.

During practice one day I remember pestering Blackburn on what was the highest number of “two lappers” (300m) he had seen anybody do during a workout. I was keen to show him more than anything that I could break that record. “I am going to go for 10 two lappers!” I announced to him, ”Okay.” he replied pulling his timer out without any hesitation. He started me off around the track timing every “two lapper” with his stopwatch. Everyone was starting to leave but he stayed by my side pushing me to run the next one. I remember him shouting gruffly, “You gotta want it!!!” and urging me along until I hit the tenth two-lapper.

Then there were the Luna bars, that he gave out after meets, he gave these to athletes who performed well at meets. They were more precious than the medals, and they were the highest praise you got from him. I remember the first time when I got a Chocolate Peanut Butter High Protein Luna bar after my second meet. I had worked really hard that week, and at the meet, placed fourth overall in one race and winning the relay helping the team score points. That particular Luna bar now sits on my trophy shelf next to some of my meet plaques and medals and is one of the most valuable things I own. The bar symbolizes everything the sport means to me, the family I found in my Track team, my coaches and the blood, sweat, and tears that I put into the sport. During freshman year Blackburn taught me all about perseverance and tenacity, they were true lessons in the “Blackburn way” and will remain with me forever.

Coach Blackburn will always be with me, my sprinting team, and the sport. All the words in the world can not describe how he has changed his athlete’s lives. Blackburn cultivated each of us in the Newton North track team with equal ferocity. He will forever remain in our midst. Rest easy Coach Blackburn.

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