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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Student Welcome Mike Durkin at Dewey and Sherwood

he students at Chicago’s Dewey Academy of Fine Arts spent time in the classroom learning about countries that participate in the Olympic Games. On Monday as they kicked off Olympic Week in America, it was time to show what they had learned to a special visitor: Olympian Mike Durkin, a member of the U.S. Olympic Track & Field teams in 1976 and 1980 and one of the best U.S. middle distance runners in the late 1970s. Carrying handmade flags representing the various countries, students lined up outside in the bright sunshine and marched around Union Street to 54th Street and back, led by two students Destiny and Dederick, carrying the Chicago 2016 banner. Some began chanting the name of their assigned country, “Ja-pan!, Ja-pan! Ja-pan! Ken-ya, Ken-ya! Ken-ya, USA, USA!” Once inside the school gymnasium, the group leaders marched across the stage pausing to share with Durkin some key facts about their country. It was also an opportunity for Durkin to give them a little spot quiz and share some Olympic facts and memories that he knew about their perspective country like, who is one of the most famous Romanian gymnasts? Nadia Comaneci. What famous body of water is associated with Panama? The Panama Canal. And what about Brazil? The Amazon River.Durkin spoke about becoming involved in athletics back in 7th grade. “I wasn’t very good at baseball or football, so I went out for track,” he said. While his goal was to be a sprinter, it wasn’t quite his calling so he kept running a little further until he found his event: the 1500 meters.When asked if it was hard to run track, Durkin responded truthfully, “Yes,” but he shared this advice to the eager listeners, “It got easier the harder I worked.” Durkin spoke of the importance of setting goals and to not get discouraged. I was never a state champion in high school,” he was beaten twice at the Illinois State Championships but he didn’t let that discourage him. An athletic scholarship to the University of Illinois led to several Big 10 track championships. After competing in the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal in the 1500 meters he went to law school but soon re-discovered his passion for the sport and set a goal of making the 1980 Olympic team. He made the team against most odds, but unfortunately that was the year that the United States boycotted the Olympic Games in Moscow. “I was very, very disappointed.”Having grown up here, Durkin, shared his excitement to have the Olympic Games in Chicago and described the various ways the Dewey Academy students could be a part of the games either as an athlete, volunteer or as a spectator. Durkin recalled what a thrill it was to travel to Atlanta for the 1996 Olympic Games with his three sons and watching U.S. Basketball “Dream Team” compete. As the assembly drew to a close Durkin thanked the two special helpers, Destiny and Dederick for holding the Chicago 2016 banner such a long time. And it was appropriate that a girl named Destiny would play that role . . . as Chicago hopes it is indeed our destiny to get the 2016 Olympic Games.Durkin was also a guest Olympian at Chicago’s Sherwood Elementary School and Betsy Ross Elementary School on Monday for Olympic Week in America.

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