The beauty of track and field is not only found in the grace and power of the body in motion, but also in the striking diversity of its events and its competitors. We are a unique sporting family—branches of wildly varying physical shapes, cultural textures and dynamic expressions—yet all grafted to the same nourishing tree rooted in faithfulness and family. The Central Valley, like track and field, is indeed a cultural tapestry much as I envision heaven to be, and I think perhaps our region as a whole could take some cues from the ways in which the most diverse collection of individuals imaginable seem to thrive from their distinctiveness rather than struggle in their difference.
I have many pictures of the FPU track team hanging in my office that celebrate the cultural kaleidoscope and cross-pollination of backgrounds that is so uniquely fostered in sport and grown into a beautiful representation of 1 Corinthians 12—one body made up of many interdependent parts, suffering and celebrating together in all things. Two of my favorites serve as wonderful visual representations of this kingdom principle.
The first (below left) is a picture taken in 1972 of the diminutive marathon runner Don Gregory handing the Goliath hammer thrower Dennis McCave his implement after retrieving it for him during a competition. The second (below right) is a team picture taken circa 1969—a beautiful rag-tag crew made up of Mennonite Brethren farm kids named Klassen, Reimer and Penner leaning on their African American brothers with impressive Afros—Davis, Veal, Hurd, Salles.
The era and the cultural tenor of that time should not be missed here. Our university and the sport of track and field have a tradition of reconciliation and a lineage of blending many into one, so it is a blessing to hang this year’s team picture next to those mentioned. We continue the work of oneness. We truly are a microcosm of what the Central Valley should strive to be.
A nickname I have given the team is “The Central Valley All-Stars.” I couldn’t be more proud to be a Sunbird, but it is also a point of pride to have brought many of the Valley’s finest student-athletes into the FPU family. In mind, body and spirit, these high-achieving ambassadors of 21 Central Valley towns now represent our region and FPU together. In fact, 88 percent of the track and field roster originate from the Central Valley. One of my favorite jokes to use with recruits when introducing them to one of the few team members not from the region is, “This is Stefani, she’s a distance runner. She’s also one of our international students—she’s from San Bernardino County.” It’s funny every time.
And so, in celebrating our differences in sport, cultural backgrounds and academic endeavors, we celebrate our sameness as a team, as regional ambassadors and a family in Christ. The intentional pursuit of these things always takes work, but the snapshots of heaven we get to create are the very heart of our purpose.