In the loose grains of cinder behind the elementary school lie a readymade excuse.
This old-school cinder oval with one lonely little set of bleachers, measuring a bit longer than a regulation track, is the training facility for small-school Duanesburg. There is no competition-level all-weather surface in the school district and, therefore, no home meets for the track and field team.
The footing the cinder provides gives runners every excuse to settle for a fraction of their potential, but senior 400-meter specialist Maddy Kenyon won’t settle. Not even for nine-tenths.
“I’ve gone the extra mile, going to the gym in my free time, getting my teammates and all of us working out after practice,” she said. “I think we can overlook the facilities and see what we’ve put in in the offseason and our free time.
“I’m not surprised with my results right now. It’s because of the work and the determination. My parents — ‘Don’t do anything nine-tenths.’ Quote. They always say that. You don’t do anything nine-tenths. That’s what I have to do.”
Kenyon won the 400 at the Eddy Meet earlier this month in Schenectady for the first time, and she did it with a personal-best and school-record 57.27. As the anchor for the 1,600 relay team, she helped turn a 4:06.96 at the Eddy Meet, good for third and just shy of the school-record 4:06.31 they ran last year at the state qualifier.
She and the other Duanesburg athletes have traveled around and seen the tracks and facilities at other schools, so they get glimpses of what training may be like outside the district, but all they’ve ever known at home is their cinder oval.
Kenyon started getting used to the surface in elementary school.
“I used to always run around the track when I was younger,” Kenyon said. “One of the girls on our 4x400 relay, Ciara Fisher, and I would actually run around the track and try to beat each other.
“There’s poor footing. That can cause injury, and it has. The track’s not regulation size, so it’s hard to measure out our zones for when we do the 4x100, our relay handoffs, it’s very hard to do on that track. Plus, you can’t get up to top speed, because it’s cinder, so your footing slips.”
This season’s coach, Donna Wilkes, has known Kenyon and the other girls on the team since they were in elementary school. Wilkes — the school librarian and mother of Kenyon’s relay teammate Meghan Wilkes — volunteered to fill in when the regular coach, Maureen Moffett, became unavailable this season because of an injury.
She admitted the old track can present an extra hurdle for the Duanesburg athletes in their training. Still, with just eight girls on the team, Duanesburg finished third in the Section II Group 5 championships on Saturday.
“It’s challenging,” Wilkes said. “We’re lucky that our athletes are versatile and that they are so focused on their skill, because that really comes through. It does make it a challenge, but these girls always rise to the challenge.
“I’ve known all of these girls since they were elementary school. It’s great to work with them in this capacity. It’s a privilege.”
Kenyon first started running the 400 in eighth grade. It turned out, she was pretty good at it, winning her first time out by a fraction of a second, then as a freshman breaking the school record in the event.
Since then, she has continued to improve and is now running faster than ever as state qualifiers and the state meet in Middletown approach.
“[This spring,] I wanted to break 58 before state quals, which I did at the Eddy,” Kenyon said. “So I’ve met my goals, so far. My new goal is the low 56s at states.
“I came in sixth last year, so I’d like to move up a little bit more. I’d like to run in the Federations on June 8 instead of just running on the seventh in our divisions. I’d like to make it to the second day and do well there, too.”
Even though she broke the school record as a freshman, Kenyon said it was during her sophomore year that she began to truly apply herself.
“I decided, ‘I’ve got to get this down, and I can really go somewhere with this,’ ” Kenyon said. “Then I started training at better facilities and taking my own time to go to the gym. I’d go to the gym for two hours every night in the winter, also playing basketball, just to get in that shape for track because I really wanted those [college] coaches to notice me.”
She’s been accepted to West Point, and will run for the academy’s track and field team next year.
Judging from Wilkes’ assessment, it seems like a good fit.
“Maddy’s a born leader,” Wilkes said. “She is always there to support her teammates, to give feedback, to give support. She will always take time whenever she’s asked to do whatever is asked of her. She’s exemplary.”
Kenyon is not yet sure whether she wants to make a career out of the Army or just serve her mandatory five years after graduation and leave, but that’s a decision that’s a few years off. Either way, the determination and dedication she has developed will come in handy during her training on and off the track at the academy.
After years of unsure footing making the next step a risky proposition, Kenyon is enthusiastic about the next step beyond high school, and she’s even got a new pair of shoes to wear while taking it.
“I’m actually getting my boots now,” she said. “I’ve got to break those bad boys in.”