EVEN THE most self-absorbed will look up from their cellphones, gaze at the color overload and listen to the speedy chatter of nervous energy.
Entering Franklin Field during the Penn Relays freezes the quick in your step.
Vibrant swaths of yellow and red and blue and green glow with sweat in the spring air, thick with hope. It's nearly impossible to describe the environment. You have to feel it to know it. Thousands of athletes invade the track haven this week, sharing the obvious goal, wielding suspect confidence and frayed nerves while hiding their true smiles until after the finish line, where relief often overshadows frustration.
All ages lace up fancy sneaks. It's easy to get lost in the mass of stars and also-rans but there's a chance Champ Goldy will attract attention in the noisy crowd and not because he figures he will be chasing the pack in his 100-meter heat. Most guys his age run for the Nirvana track club.
"I can't win," said Goldy, who, at 98, will be competing in the Masters' 75-and-up 100-meter dash Saturday at 3:40 p.m. "But I hope to break 30."
Every 30 seconds of Goldy's life are precious. He started competing at the Penn Relays in 2001 and remembers one time he wasn't sure he could make the cut.
"They only let in 10 and I was number 13," he said. "Three other guys conked out so I got in."
Goldy anticipated my next awkward question, clearing up the meaning of conked.
"Well, you know, they might have gotten sick or died," he said. "That's where we are."
Goldy is somewhere where most people are not. He got serious about running at 70 when he had to officially retire as a Methodist minister. He still serves as a guest preacher and really doesn't have to say much to inspire people.
"People approach me every day and say I'm their inspiration," said Goldy.
Inspiration is rampant at the massive meet. It oozes from legs old and young. Nadia Pace, a 14-year-old eighth-grader with the perfect runner's name and even better attitude, competed last night at the Penn Relays for the fourth time as a member of the GESU grade school track team.
When she first set foot on the Franklin Field track as a fifth-grader, she was 87 years younger than Goldy is now.
Imagine the change of venue through the wide eyes of an 11-year-old. Pace went from maybe a couple of hundred spectators in the stands at Roxborough High or on the hills behind the Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush School in the Northeast to thousands at Franklin Field.
The fans at grade school meets create sporadic noise from supportive parents and some teammates cheering but there are a lot of uninterested fellow athletes mostly looking for hot dogs between events. The people in the Franklin Field stands create enough background music to give Metallica a run for its amps, especially if your team advances out of last night's CYO races to the Friday morning finals, which run in the middle of college events.
"It's scary at first," said Pace. "It was much bigger than I was used to. But then you realize you have to run."
She and her teammates ran well. In fifth grade, her team advanced to the finals and took seventh place with a time of 60.08 seconds. In sixth grade, her team ripped off a 56.12 in the finals and finished second.
"I was surprised we took second," said Pace. "I felt we ran really fast but had no idea we ran that fast."
Adrenaline has a permanent place in the stadium. You can sense it in the flag-waving frenetic Jamaican fans near the finish line, in the determined faces awaiting the gun, in the anchor legs churning toward their lean. It fits young woman, like Nadia, as comfortably as her socks with the word SWEET she wore at a meet 2 weeks ago.
"You have anxiety, and are jumpy every time you go," said Pace, who last night was joined in the 4x100 by Tamia Simmons, Amira Woodlin and Kayla Reynolds with Jahina Purnell as the alternate.
"You feel more pressure than usual but the experience mainly gave me more of a reason to win. There are a lot of athletes there but it's how you handle the pressure that matters. It made me more focused to do well for my school."
Goldy doesn't have a school. He has the support of his wife Evelyn, the loyalists from Philadelphia Masters and an unparalleled will. He's not even 98 and a half yet. He only takes two pills for blood pressure and has an average heart rate of 61.
His goal is to run the 100 at the Penn Relays when he's 100.
"I love the 100, said Goldy. "I don't like the 200. It kind of knocks me out."
He's being modest. He has hundreds of medals and has been a part of world records. Goldy rides a motorized scooter when he gets tired. It has a basket in it for the shot put he tosses in the park across the street from his Haddonfield, N.J., home. He also competes in javelin and discus.
He runs in the street in most weather and in the garage on a treadmill if the skies open. Nadia runs the 100, 200, 400, 4x1, 4x2 and triple jumps. She even runs on off days with her younger brother, Terrell and younger sister Terrea, who are also on the team.
"We don't run to beat each other," said Pace. "We run to make each other faster."
It's amazing the student council president, who gets first honors and plans to attend Merion Mercy, has the time after cheerleading, basketball, yearbook committee, and academic bowl.
"Wow," said Pace when she heard about Goldy. So does everyone else.
Nadia and Goldy are much more than just at the start and end of an amazing race. They are both savoring each step, alive and running under spring skies.
Champ Goldy's Penn Relays times in 75-and-up 100 meters:
2001, 4th, 17.50 seconds
2002, 5th, 17.70 seconds
2003, 7th, 18.79 seconds
2006, 7th, 20.94 seconds
2007 10th, 19.30 seconds