Monday, January 25, 2016

V 6 N. 5 Navigating The Currents of Time - Paul Pearson



Navigating The Currents of Time

By Paul O’Shea


“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” concludes Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby.

Yogi Berra said it less lyrically. “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Whatever the formulation, the message from the Jazz Age novelist and the Yankee catcher is that for many, a presumed ending might also offer a rewarding new beginning.
Paul Pearson, The 70s Version


I met Paul Pearson at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow.  As I learned about his running career and coaching one of the top cross country teams in Texas, I said I had been interested in writing about someone who loved competing beyond high school, beyond college, well into age-group years.  For whom there was always another workout, another race, whose finish line was over the hill.
 My hope was that we could encourage younger runners completing high school or college to pursue unfinished business. I found that Paul Pearson is a poster competitor for runners navigating the currents of time.
         Over some five decades he’s been a high school standout, Canadian national senior and junior champion, NCAA All-American, and this close to running a sub-four-minute mile.  He won handfuls of medals for a formidable collegiate team. Wearing Canadian colors in World Cross, the Pan Americans and World Cup, he raced some of the sport’s headline competitors, historic names like Jim Ryun, Marty Liquori and Steve Prefontaine.
Considerably older today, considerably slower for certain, Paul’s love for our sport, the kids he coaches, and the sixty-four-year-olds he competes against is unquenchable.
His story begins with disappointment.
After gaining attention with an easy win in the eighth grade gym class mile, Paul failed to make the high school freshman team. His Lakefield, Ontario school was known for its cross country squads, and drew large numbers of novice runners. 
While he didn’t merit a vest and run in invitational and championship races, a year later he caught fire, and by senior year he was the cross country team’s No. 1, province half mile champion, and a 4:24 miler. 
         Little known in a pre-Internet era, Paul was keen to run in college, but in warmer climates. After two years at the University of Waterloo, fed up with the weather and lack of competition he examined U.S. weather maps in the school library. Texas’s snow accumulations were enticing, and so he wrote to four Lone Star State schools.  One responded and he was offered a scholarship to Texas Western in El Paso beginning in 1971.  Several years earlier the school made basketball history when its all-black team (the university was then Texas Western) stunned the all-white, Adolph Rupp coached, University of Kentucky in the NCAA final. A year later it became the University of Texas at El Paso, UTEP.
.        Paul Pearson had an outstanding collegiate career, filled with high placings in major competition.  He was a member of the Miners team which finished second in the 1973 NCAA cross country meet. Running the third leg of the distance medley winner in the 1974 NCAA indoor, earning All American honors highlighted his UTEP career. He also ran a 3:42 1500 meters, which Track and Field News tables say converts precisely to a 4:00.0 mile. In later years he was inducted into the UTEP athletic hall of fame.
By this time Paul Pearson was a prominent figure in the Canadian running community, and picked for the team that competed in the 1978 World Cross in Scotland.  He also represented his country in the Pan American and World Cup meets. Though finishing second in the national trials, he missed qualifying for the 1972 Olympics in the 1500 by six-tenths of a second.
When he was 31, intrigued by the seductive, “What could I do if I ran a marathon?” he toured 26.2 miles in 2:20.  At forty Paul ran 4:06 in a master’s 1500.
         His notable achievements as a master’s competitor included a USATF 1500 championship and National Senior Games title at the same distance.
Paul Pearson , The Master

         Life wasn’t all intervals and hill work, however.  There was a professional career to pursue.  He received undergraduate and graduate degrees at UTEP  before the educational field provided a fine livelihood. Paul was first an English teacher, then a high school principal for eight years, while coaching the track and cross country teams.  Following retirement he was elected to El Paso’s Ysleta Independent School District board.

         Today the sixty-four-year old is a volunteer track and cross country coach at El Paso’s Eastwood High School, and a masters performer at the highest level.  The Troopers head coach is Mike McLain who ran for Pearson when Paul was head coach at Hanks High School in the mid-1980s. Their 2015 cross country team had one particularly impressive individual performance when for the first time, a Eastwood harrier ran in the NXN championship in Portland, Oregon.

Paul and Mike strongly believe that runners should compete beyond high school. How many times have you said goodbye to a runner at the end of the season, and said to yourself: “Michelle (or Mitch) ought to run in college, even though she said she won’t have time.  There’s talent that has yet to be fully developed, and she’ll miss out on the fun and the personal achievement that can be hers if she finds a running program, and a school that can develop her further.”

 Paul thinks you shouldn’t finish running until you’ve seen how good you can be.  “If you’re been a decent high school runner, and your times and performances don’t attract Division I interest, there are plenty of opportunities to get a good education and develop further at Division II and III colleges and universities.” 

“We both think that running is a lot of fun and teaches you lessons that enable you to be successful in life,” Pearson and McLain believe.  “Why not use that ability to go to college, extend your running life, have fun, and get a degree at the same time?” 

McLain says, “if running on a team gave you a great enough experience that you want to continue it in hope of finding that great team experience again, why not go for it?” 

Many Eastwood graduates run in college. Paul encourages them to “increase the volume and quality of their running to hopefully enable them to improve over time and reach their maximum performance level.” 

         “We really like it when they come home over the summer and Christmas, and train with the team,” McLain says.  “Even if they are doing different workouts than we are, it gives the college kids a place to run and people to run with, and they can mentor and talk to our kids about their experiences.”

“I feel many El Paso distance runners could improve enough to be college conference scorers if they were in a good program,” Paul points out.  “I’ve seen how far many developed in the four years of high school and believe the same could happen over four years of college.”

If you retrieve El Paso Times stories from the 1970s, you’ll see a heavily bearded and mustachioed Paul Pearson raising his arms in victory as he runs across a finish line in Miners’ gear.  Forty years on you’ll see him again in the Times, grayer, less hirsute, beaming after running and placing in the 2010 U.S. Masters championships.

Never over until it’s over?  Indeed.


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Paul O’Shea is a long-time track and field and running world participant, as competitor, coach, journalist and traveler to national and international events.  After retirement from a career in corporate communications he began contributing to Cross Country Journal and Athletics, a Canadian track and field publication, and coaching a girls’ cross country team. He contributes to Once Upon A Time In The Vest from his home in northern Virginia, and can be reached at Poshea17@aol.com.




Note from Paul Pearson:  "...The older picture was 1975 taken in El Paso. At the time I was running for Toronto Striders. The newer one was taken a few years ago in Washington DC.  These days I usually run the USATF Masters Nationals and am lucky enough to get on the podium. The last couple of years I've run 5:20 for 1500m. Three years ago I ran 4:55 for 1500m...."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Awesome career.