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Q&A with Blake Boldon, Drake Relays Director

Drake Stadium Friday morning as participants lineup in the starting blocks on the Blue Oval.
Drake Stadium Friday morning as participants lineup in the starting blocks on the Blue Oval.

DES MOINES – Blake Boldon took over as the director of the Drake Relays back in October of 2016.

Boldon, a graduate of Clarke High School, gave me the chance to talk to him during the Drake Relays about the experience and what it has meant to him to “bring the Drake Relays into every home in Iowa.”

Q: Now that you’ve done this for a couple years, what has the experience been like for you?

Boldon: “That goal of trying to take the Drake Relays to every community, household, workplace, playground in the state of Iowa, you know, I think we’ve taken big steps toward that and made good progress.

One, of course is the Grand Blue Mile and how well BlueCross BlueShield and Healthy State Initiative have partnered with the Drake Relays to create the set the pace challenge, encouraging all municipalities and zip codes to compete for a $10,000 grant. We saw Lohrville from Calhoun County win last year, ... and it’s a small town probably not bigger than Murray and they chartered a bus and came down with a good percentage of their people and won 10 grand to build a trail in their community. So to see some of those things happen have been really impactful.

Then to see the high school kids, ... watch them in the mixed zone, watch them on TV later, see them have that first public interview. Have that first public experience alongside the Olympic champion or the world record holder. It’s been incredible to have that experience and play a role in putting it all together.”

Q: Can you walk me through what a day working the Drake Relays is like for you?

Boldon: “Every day is very, very different. This week, depending on the event, the work starts usually around 7 or 7:30 in the morning and depending again on which day of the week, ... but then most of this week I’m on my feet and setting up for the Grand Blue Mile, setting up the pole vault at Capital Square, finalizing some details here. We have a Hall of Fame luncheon.

Everyday is different, but they’re all filled with events and inevitably I get back to my computer at 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. and I’ll have somewhere between 100 and 200 emails sent in that time that I haven’t been able to address. I do that until they’re done and sometimes its midnight, sometimes its 2:30 a.m., sometimes its after that and then I sleep for a few hours and do it again.”

Q: You talked about how great of an opportunity it was when you took over, I have to imagine the feelings are still similar to then.

Boldon: “Yeah, and there are some seriously meaningful opportunities. My mom and sister and nephew are in the stands now to share some of these experiences with family, but also friends from that I have made from my other journeys, employment and opportunities.

A gentleman, that is a good friend of mine, Steve Gilbert, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2003. He lives in Indianapolis. Yesterday he came and he ran the 800 and it was really a lot of fun.”

Q: With moments like that, do you have any favorite moments so far?

Boldon: “That was one good. That was really good. It was really good to sit with Steve and share time with him after the event. He was able to come down here (Mixed Zone) and be interviewed, ... What’s great about Steve is, it wasn’t about him or the 3:29 he had just run, it was about sharing the message with other people who are diagnosed with Parkinson’s. He likes to say, ‘Parkinson’s, doesn’t take a day off. So neither can I.’

That’s really been his secret to living with the disease and extending the quality of life. Everyday he wakes up and fights it. Not in some ethereal way but literally takes it head on. He’s trained for two marathons. This is the first time he’s raced on the track (at Drake) and so two years ago he and I hiked the Inca Trail. We sat in a tent at 13,000 feet in the Andes in South America in Peru and he said, ‘you know what? Parkinson’s is the best thing that has ever happened to me.’ So pretty special to share that with him.

Q: Do you get any emotions of seeing the high school athletes who see the Blue Oval for the first time?

Boldon: Yeah, Thursday of the relays at 2 o’clock when the high school kids are practicing. If they’re seeing it for the first time this morning, ... you can just here them, ‘Wow.’

It’s not just the high school kids, but on Wednesday I know Kentucky came to the track only just to see it. ... Athletes that are from all over the country, they’ve raced at Stanford, they’ve run at SEC schools, they’ve been at Texas A&M and they walk into Drake Stadium and it takes their breath away. It’s pretty cool.

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