Lucas Fadden `26 prepares to take off ahead of the 200-meter dash.
Lucas Fadden `26 prepares to take off ahead of the 200-meter dash.
Meilynn Smith

James Snyder `26 wins Elite 20 award as track and field takes it outdoors

Since his summer training started in early June, James Snyder `26 has been running. Whether it is practices, cross country and track meets or jogs around Grinnell, he has put one foot in front of the other, all in the name of shaving seconds off his personal bests. His program, though, is far from over, as the track and field teams begin their outdoor season.

As a member of the Midwest Conference (MWC)-winning Men’s Cross Country team, Snyder’s year seemed to start well. “We started the season knowing that was our goal,” he said, referring to winning the Oct. 28 MWC cross country championship. Snyder, however, could not run in the championships due to injury. 

For Snyder, winning the championship was nice, but getting better is the biggest victory. “We [the team] agree why we do it is to improve ourselves,” Snyder said. But unlike other sports teams, the championship win was only half of the season for most cross country runners. In the spring, the cross country runners still on campus become distance runners for Grinnell’s track and field teams. The team that previously ran unique and lengthy outdoor courses shifted to one running laps on a consistent, short track. 

James Snyder `26 during the 4×400 during the Darren Young Classic. He won the Elite 20 award at the Midwest Conference indoor championships for being the athlete with the highest GPA at the event. (Meilynn Smith)

Despite being a part of the conference-winning team, Snyder’s season has not just been defined by his athletic achievements. At the Feb. 23 to 24 MWC Indoor Track & Field Championship, Snyder received the Elite 20 award, given to the student athlete with the highest cumulative grade point average (GPA) competing at the event. 

“It was honestly very unexpected,” Snyder said. 

“It comes from my parents teaching me dedication and working hard at all times,” Snyder said, “and applying myself, whether that’s in the classroom or in practices or in competition.” According to Snyder, the award means even more at a school like Grinnell, “where a higher GPA means a little bit more than a higher GPA at some other schools,” he said. 

Moving from indoor to outdoor, Snyder remains a distance runner, but with more opportunities to showcase his talent. “For the distance group, we’re only really racing once in indoor meets, whereas during outdoor we race twice,” he said. 

Still, Snyder has good things to say about the indoor season. “Indoor is such a crazy environment because you have everything happening in such a small space,” Snyder said. The small space can be attributed to the nature of indoor tracks, which are half the size of outdoor ones, and the field events happen in close proximity to the runners.

“A lot of times, I can’t hear individual voices,” he said, referencing the cheering indoors. “It’s just like a mass of noise, and that still gives me energy.” Even though the move outdoors lowers the noise due to a lack of walls and a roof, Snyder said that the energy doesn’t drop among the runners, as times are faster outdoors, leading to more intense competition.

Just as the track gets larger, from indoors to outdoors, the team also grows from cross country to track and field as athletes other than distance runners complete the roster. The Track & Field teams are comprised of distance runners, including those from the cross country team, alongside sprinters, throwers, pole vaulters and jumpers, some of whom have played other sports. That is the case for Keaton Fitzgerald `26, whose 2023 indoor track season was flanked by a full football season in the fall and football practices in the spring. 

Keaton Fitzgerald `26 during the 200-meter dash. He earned a time of 24.20 seconds at the Darren Young Classic on Feb. 10. (Evan Hein)

Fitzgerald said that the continuous training lowered his enthusiasm for the track season. “I don’t think I was dedicated as much to the indoor season last year,” Fitzgerald said, “but this year I was all in.” Fitzgerald noted that his times noticeably improved, as did his morale, emphasizing his “gratitude for being on this team.” He put up a time of 24.17 seconds in the 200-meter sprint at this past MWC indoor championship versus 25.18 seconds in the same event during his first meet, the Hilltop Invitational, last year. 

Last season, Fitzgerald only ran the indoor portion due to his commitments to football. This year, however, Fitzgerald aims to compete outdoors too. “I really love it this year,” he said. 

Even though they did not compete together in the fall, Snyder and Fitzgerald found merging the two teams easy. “It’s very easy to approach others, like other distance runners, as a speed and power [athlete] myself,” Fitzgerald said. “We all kind of know each other,” Snyder said.

The Track and Field teams go to San Diego over spring break for an outdoor meet from March 22 to 23. The Pioneers have their first outdoor home meet on April 20.  

Ava Taylor 25 (middle left) races during the 60 meter dash during the Darren Young Classic on Feb. 10. The mect was held indoors in the Charles Benson Bear `39 Recreation and Athletic Center Field House. (Evan Hein)
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