After 45 years, the Steuben Striders Track Club continues to run strong

STEUBENVILLE — It all started with a fortunate meeting with an Olympic hero. Some 45 years later, it is still going.

It is the Steuben Striders Track Club, and that Olympic hero was Jesse Owens at a meet in the summer of 1972 at Walsh College.

According to Patricia Herring, who helped found and now runs the club, she and her husband Bob Young met the legendary 1936 gold medalist while attending a meet her children were participating in. After watching Bradley, Collean and Tracy Young have a successful event, Owens asked Bob Young if they had a track club. When he replied they did not, according to Herring, the Olympic Champion replied with, “start one.”

“We had our three children and a neighbors child at a Junior JC track meet,” Herring said. “My kids were very athletic. He saw them compete and thought that we had a track team. When my husband told him that we did not, he said, ‘well go back and start one.’ So my husband came back and did.”

A year later in 1973, the Steuben Striders were born with a small group of between 10 and 15 kids from ages nine through 18. Bob Young provided the young athletes with uniforms and the group began traveling and competing in events. He went door-to-door to raise around $3,000 to fund the club’s start up and uniforms for the competitors.

“He walked around and literally asked people to help him,” she said. “He was able to raise $3,000 on his own by walking around and asking people. He outfited the athletes that he was able to gather. He used that money to buy them uniforms and track shoes if they didn’t have them. When we walked into a stadium, we were well recognized.”

Back then, Herring did not imagine what it would become, or that it would still be around so many years later.

“No, I did not think it would become this,” she said. “Really didn’t think at all. The only thing I knew then was Bob Young loved these children.”

Flash forward to 45 years later and the Striders currently have 280 kids between the ages of five and 18 from all over the region. The club has around 20 coaches and staff members, and are members of the USA Track and Field Association. The athletes still wear the original green and orange colors that Bob Young chose when he founded the club.

However, it has not been without adversity as the club almost slipped away — twice.

First in 1981, nine years after the inspirational meeting with Owens, Bob Young passed away. Herring, mourning the loss of her husband and doubting her ability to run the club on her own, was ready to allow it to cease.

Ron Westfall stepped in and offered to help, convincing her to continue the club.

“I had people who really helped me take over,” Herring said. “When (Bob Young) died, I was ready to give it up. The kids were hurt when he died. Ron Westfall was instrumental in keeping the club together. I did not think I could do it because I did not know how to run it; my husband did everything. (Westfall) said to me, ‘Don’t disolve the club. The kids love it and they need it.’ He helped and over the years other people stepped up as club presidents and in other ways to keep the club going.”

Westfall passed away three years ago.

“We give out plaques to our coaches in his honor at our banquet,” she said. “He was a great person and a Vietnam War veteran. You could not ask for a better person.”

For a second time, Herring faced a major setback when she herself was hospitalized and near death in 2012. She pulled through, though, and has her own idea as to why.

“I almost died,” she said. “I was in the hospital and didn’t know how sick I was. People can laugh at me if they want to, but He told me I was not going anywhere because He still had things for me to do. I am way past my prime, but God is keeping me here for a reason. I believe that reason is to keep (the club) going. As long as he keeps me here, that is what I am going to do.

“God is the head of my program. That is why it is functioning as well as it is. You just have to let him do the job.”

The Striders recently hosted their first of three home track meets this season at the Harding Stadium track and field complex and have several planned trips to compete in national-level events.

Herring hosts the participants for an end-of-the-year banquet at the conclusion of the season, where trophies are presented for the kids’ hard work over the course of the summer. Graduating seniors are awarded scholarships. The Striders also have a swim party.

Another thing that is important to Herring is keeping the costs down for participants. Each Strider pays $30, and the athletes get a t-shirt and shorts provided. The only funsraising the club does is selling candy bars.

“I don’t believe in charging more than that,” she said. “A lot of the parents have mutliple kids participating. I keep it as low as possible. You have to look at the economy.”

From the beginning, she has kept her focus in one place.

“I’m doing it for the children,” Herriing said. “It is all about them and they are my main focus. I’m trying to keep the kids focused on something positive in this area. I don’t go on vacation during the summer. My time in the summer belongs to the children. They are our future.”