DANA O'BLENES became the first Ossipee Recreation athlete to make the national championships and earned kudos from Recreation Director Peter Waugh. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
August 18, 2014REGION — Caitlin Carpenter and Dana O'Blenes got to be a part of history earlier this month.
The two local athletes participated in the final ever Hershey Track National Championship meet the first weekend in August in Hershey, Pa.
The long-running Hershey Track program will be undergoing changes next year, so this year was the final national championship meet.
And O'Blenes and Carpenter, both 12, got to take part in the celebration.
The national championship brings the best athletes from around the state in each discipline to Hershey, Pa., where they take part in the meet, get the chance to meet with athletes from all over North America and even get to Hershey Park.
Christine Collins, who serves as the director of the New Hampshire Hershey Track program and also as Wolfeboro Parks and Recreation Assistant Director, accompanied O'Blenes, Carpenter and their New Hampshire teammates on the trip. She noted that after the state meets are finalized, the states (and provinces) in that region get together and they figure out the top finisher in each event. New Hampshire's region includes the New England states, as well as New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in Canada.
Each state or province is guaranteed at least five competitors and no athlete can compete in more than one event, insuring as many kids as possible make the championships.
For Carpenter, who won the New Hampshire state title in the standing long jump, her distance was good enough for first place in the region. For O'Blenes, who won the 800 for the state, his time was third overall in the region, but because the top two weren't able to attend, O'Blenes got the nod.
Carpenter finished up her third year of participating in the Hershey Track and Field program through the Wolfeboro Department of Parks and Recreation, while O'Blenes was in his second year of competing through the Ossipee Recreation Department.
Both youngsters admitted that they enjoyed the competition at every level.
"I liked competing against the other girls," Carpenter said.
"Competing against the other kids, or the amusement park," O'Blenes said with a smile when asked for his favorite part of the trip.
The duo flew out of Manchester to Philadelphia, where they waited with other groups for a coach bus to come and bring them to Elizabethtown College, where the athletes and chaperones stayed during their time.
They participated in a field day, where they got to know competitors from other regions and states. Each was given four New Hampshire t-shirts, with the option of trading them to other states to get some new ones. Carpenter said meeting kids from Hawaii was pretty awesome, though she was unable to get a Hawaii shirt. She said she got one from Alabama, Iowa and New Brunswick.
At the field day, Carl Lewis, Rafer Johnson and Jackie Joyner-Kersee were among the athletes the kids were able to meet and mingle with. Additionally, the entire weekend of events was videoed and many of the New Hampshire athletes were featured in the video.
Both O'Blenes and Carpenter noted it was a bit strange to compete in just one event, as they are used to doing multiple events at each meet. O'Blenes even pointed out it was an unexpected change that led to his state championship.
He expected the 400 to be first, but the 800 came first. Since he wasn't tired from the 400, he put up his best time in the 800 and earned the state championship.
Ossipee Recreation Director Peter Waugh was more than excited for O'Blenes when Collins called him with the news that he had earned a spot. But getting the news to him was a bit tougher.
After calls to multiple family members, it was determined that the youngster was out of cell service camping in Errol with family.
"We had a bit of a hard time getting through," Waugh laughed. "But it was a great experience for him for sure."
O'Blenes, through talking to one of the New Hampshire chaperones, relayed his experience with the Civil Air Patrol program in Ossipee and he was chosen to carry the state flag in the opening ceremonies. It was also the first time on an airplane for O'Blenes, who noted he and a teammate on the plane enjoyed looking out the windows and naming the huge banks of clouds they saw.
"To me, it doesn't matter where you place, it's an awesome experience," Waugh said. Both Carpenter and O'Blenes placed 10th in their respective events.
Both also had family members in attendance. The Carpenter family worked a vacation around the meet and flew down to watch Caitlin perform. O'Blenes noted his family was planning on surprising him by driving down to cheer him on, but his sisters gave away the surprise before they got there.
Next year, Hershey Track is being changed over to a national Run, Jump and Throw competition. Collins and Waugh both noted they are hoping to continue the track program at the local level in New Hampshire, where it has reached a large number of kids throughout the years. Eventually, the hope is that the different states in the region might be able to work together to make it a regional competition.
As if being part of history as the final Hershey Track national championship athletes, there was one more bit of history.
O'Blenes marked the first athlete from the Ossipee program to make it to the nationals in the seven years the program has been running.
"He represented Ossipee and Effingham very well," Waugh said of O'Blenes.
And though they've been back from Pennsylvania for a few weeks, the smiles on the faces of the two young competitors as they talk about their experience is enough to make anyone realize they had the time of their lives.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at 569-3126 or firstname.lastname@example.org