article by Matt Springer
It came up in a conversation with Brianne and Ashton Eaton last August as their one-year-old son was tottering around Hayward before the Prefontaine Classic. In a land of legends, defined by track champions, noteworthy authors, and a robust social sector with specific expertise in children/family development – there seemed a gap of actual stories centered in our community.
Up for a challenge, Friends of the Children – Lane County, approached UO’s Head Track Coach, Robert Johnson, about the idea of co-authoring a children’s book. The idea was to create a celebration of Eugene’s rich track tradition and some of our region’s special places while also amplifying social emotional concepts that we know aid all children in their journey to success.
For Friends – Lane County we thought it was an opportunity to highlight our arrival in the community. Having started in July of 2020, amid COVID19 restrictions, our organization has been successful getting our services up and running (aiding youth and families overcome cycles of disadvantage through 12+ years of support from a professional mentor), but the general isolation of the pandemic has limited our ability to share our story with the community. The platform of the World Athletic Championships presented a great opportunity to begin telling that tale too.
So, we began discussing the idea of how the emergence from COVID paralleled the energy, when the sun seems to re-emerge on a particular day each year and everyone rushes outside in tank-tops and short-shorts to genuinely relish in, a bright and, typically, 48-degree, day. We discussed how the success of elite athletes is often due as much to core mental characteristics (e.g. curiosity about themselves, grit and perseverance, etc.) as their physical abilities. We talked about how good mentors and coaches artfully empower others to see and claim their potential. We talked about how a key component of social justice is ensuring that all kids had access to mentors/coaches and other supportive adults. We puzzled about how to find an incredible local artist and lucked into finding Portland-based, Christin Engelberth, who has contributed her huge talent and imagination to bringing these ideas into the light.
The result of this musing is Fleetfoot’s Rise, the story of a young Finnley Von Fleetfoot, Last of the Light Launchers, as she attempts to navigate a daunting set of challenges and bring hope back into the wintery darkness of Oregonia. At each step, Finnley overcomes a potential social/emotional hurdle in a familiar local environment. For instance, she climbs the Obelisks of Overwhelm (The Skinner’s Butte climbing Columns) and falls on the Stairs of Despairs (the newer rough stone steps on Spencer’s Butte Summit Route) as she makes her way towards the Sacred Circles of Highvert (sort of a fictional Viking version of Hayward Field).
Along the way Finnley is backed by “Bill” who is a reference to the three long-term coaches (Hayward, Bowerman and Dellinger) that preceded Coach Johnson at the helm of UO’s track team. We chose to honor the incredible story of another UO great, “Mack” Robinson, through Bill’s physical appearance. Through this grandfatherly character, who rocks Nikes in honor of the company’s birthplace, the book emphasizes how everyone of us can amplify the innate light of others and foster their fullest potential.
To help entice visitors to some of our favorite locations, we also created a few resources associated with the book that include: (1) a Scavenger Hunt, (2) background stories, and (3) educational activities that help kids explore their own strengths and fortitude.
Only a limited run of a special edition version of the book will be produced for the Championships. Local folks can pre-order a copy of the book on the Friends of the Children website http://Friendslanecountyor.org. During the Championships, a limited number of books will be available for purchase at Friends of the Children (on 5th and Washington in Eugene), and several partner companies – until they run out. A smaller version of the book will be available for purchase online.
Ultimately the book represents the hope we share about all children – that they will have the support needed to overcome the challenges they face – support that is particularly important when children are facing systemic and historical barriers that can inhibit their ability to succeed. We hope that, in addition to celebrating some of the exceptional parts of our community, the book inspires people to support kids, like Finnley, in overcoming their real-world challenges through our work at Friends of the Children – Lane County.