In an era with amazing Heps runners the likes of Trinity Gray, Torrance Chaplin and Robin Martin, Princeton speedster John Mack won six individual and six team League titles in the late 1990s. He recently subjected himself to the fastest five questions in track & field and here’s what he had to say:
Q: Do you have a favorite Fred Samara story? And are you willing to share it?
A: You know, I don’t necessarily have a favorite story about Coach. One of the things that I remember is that ever once in a while, when I was sitting and stretching before or after practice, Coach would walk by and say, “Hey Johnnie, guess who asked about you today?” I’d answer, “Who?” And then Coach would say, “No one.” The best story about our coaches that I have actually involves Mark Anderson who was my sprint coach. One day after practice my freshman year, a group of guys decided that we’d play pickup basketball in Jadwin. The coaches decided that they’d play with us. Coach Anderson and I were guarding each other and at one point there was a loose ball on the floor. We both ran for the ball. I stopped just short and Coach Anderson kept running. Right as he got to the ball he slipped and fell. He got up slowly but didn’t appear to be too hurt. He said that he was done for the day and then walked off the court toward the locker room. When I got to practice the next day Coach Samara asked me what I’d done to Coach Anderson. I was pretty confused and asked what he was talking about. He explained that when Coach Anderson had fallen during the pickup game, he’d done some major damage to his knee. He tore a few ligaments, fractured his knee cap and he had had to go to the hospital for surgery. He was on crutches for several months. Because I was guarding him and was closest to him when he fell, the guys on the team decided (jokingly) that I had pushed Coach to the ground because he’d given us a hard workout. I was given the nickname ‘Coach Killer’ by some of my teammates. Coach Samara (not jokingly) told me that I was not allowed to play basketball anymore. I didn’t play ball again for the next three years. I still talk with Coach Anderson and he occasionally mentions that the statute of limitations has not expired for him to sue me for all of his pain and suffering.
Q: Who was your favorite League rival? Why?
A: Wow, that’s a tough call. I honestly enjoyed running against all of them. Trinity Gray had the range to run anything from the 200 to the mile. Competing against Robin Martin was always especially significant, since our teams were always battling for the Heps title. Torrance Chaplin and I competed against each other the most and we had some great battles at Heps our last two years (1999-2000) when we took turns winning the 200 and 400 outdoors. If I had to pick one, I’d probably say Trinity. He was such a good competitor and you knew that you had to be at your absoloute best to beat him.
Q: You won the 200-meter dash at Outdoor Heps at Brown Stadium. Can you tell us about that race?
A: That’s probably one of, if not the most memorable, races of my entire life. There are so many things that still stand out about it. First there was the weather that weekend. In short, it was horrible. The meet was at Brown and it rained/snowed the entire weekend. By the middle of Sunday afternoon, there were huge puddles of water all over the track. I competed in four events that meet and the weather made life pretty miserable. Second, that was the best team meet that I ever competed in. We had a huge lead after the first day of Heps (about 30 points), but by the time we got to the 200, the score was pretty much even. Coach Samara had come over a few minutes before the race and told me that the team needed me to score big. I was still pretty disappointed at having not run particularly well in the 400, so I was focused on making up for it in the 200. We ended up winning the meet by two points over Penn and the women’s meet ended up in a tie. Considering how horrible the weather was, it was an outstanding weekend of competition. The thing that I remember most though, actually took place after the race. I remember crossing the finish line and even though I was really happy that I’d won, I was really cold and needed to put on my sweats so that I could rest a bit and get ready for the 4×400 relay. After a minute or two, one of the meet volunteers finally brought over the basket that had my sweats in it. They were absolutely soaking wet. I just kinda stood there looking at the sweats realizing there was pretty much no point in putting them back on. At that point, Alex Furman, one of my teammates, ran over to me. He took off his dry sweats and handed them to me and he took my wet sweats and put them on. He was finished running, but he knew that I still had to get ready for the relay. It was a simple act made by one guy in an effort to help his team win, but 11 years later it still sticks out in my mind.
Q: When you graduated, you initially took a job in the Princeton athletic department and your devotion to the Tigers was evident. How hard was it to return to the Midwest?
A: When I moved to Chicago in 2004, I really had mixed emotions. I grew up in the Midwest (near Detroit) and had a great opportunity to work at the Big Ten Conference office, so it was really exciting for me. On the other hand, between being a student-athlete and working in the athletic department, I had spent the past eight years at Princeton. It really become home for me and being there really helped to shape me into the person that I am. I hate to admit it, but I actually cried when I walked out of Jadwin Gym for the last time before moving to Chicago.
Q: What are your major responsibilities with the Northwestern University athletics program? What is the best lesson you learned at Princeton that you pass along to young Wildcats today?
A: Here at NU, my official title is Senior Associate Athletic Director. I oversee our ticket operations, marketing/promotions, licensing, corporate sponsorships. I also oversee the fencing team. I really enjoy what I do and NU is a great place to work. It reminds me a lot of Princeton. I think the best thing that I learned at Princeton was to enjoy the experience. The four years that you have to be a student-athlete go by so quickly and sometimes its hard to really appreciate what a great experience it is. To me, college athletics is not about the destination, but about the journey. The people you meet, the friends you make and the experiences that you share with your teammates. Those are the things that I remember most.