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Running the Drake Relays is a Dream Job in a City I Love

Drake Relays

April 23, 2018

Each year, Greater Des Moines (DSM) hosts the Drake Relays, a world class event that attracts some of the greatest athletes on the globe.

I was fortunate to run at the iconic Blue Oval winning the 3A state title in the 1,600 meters in 1998 and, while representing Missouri State, a Drake Relays title in the 1,500 meters in 2003. Now I run Drake Relays as its Director — a dream job that brought me back to DSM.

Drake Relays love affair

My love for the Drake Relays began as a kid growing up in Osceola, Iowa. Iconic moments just 45 miles north of my hometown are etched in my memory. From Carl Lewis running in the snow in 1994 to Michael Johnson being dropped off at the track in a white limo, it was then that I got my first taste of the state’s deep connection to the Relays.

I ran professionally for a time (I joke that it was because I didn’t have another job for a while!) and Drake Relays was always on my radar to compete. I got a job coaching at Iowa State University, but I knew I had to be geographically flexible to advance my career. After stops at the University of Alabama and the University of Pennsylvania, I served as Executive Director of the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. 

I was able to propel the event from the 60th largest marathon in the country to the 20th. It was a great job, for a fantastic event in a vibrant city and the home of USA Track and Field. I remember telling a friend that there was only one job that would take me away form Indianapolis and that was to head the Drake Relays in DSM.

Blue Oval beckons

Flash forward a year and the Rio Olympics are about to start. I get a text that said, “Your dream job is going to come open.” At that stage I had no context but I got word that then-Relays Director Brian Brown was leaving the next day. That night I updated my cover letter and resume but couldn’t sleep. I began lobbying anyone I could think of to help me return to DSM. Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard, then-Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, Greg Edwards at Catch Des Moines and even Jay Byers at the Greater Des Moines Partnership through a mutual friend at the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce.

After a thorough process, I became the 12th Franklin 'Pitch' Johnson Drake Relays Director in November 2016 with the Relays just over four months away.

DSM is a top Midwest destination

Since my return, I’ve been surprised by how similar DSM and Indianapolis are. The things I loved about Indy — young people being civically engaged, getting involved and contributing — I saw in DSM. It’s a place that collectively is full of great leaders trying to make it a better place to live. A lot of committed folks are making DSM a destination city in the Midwest.

And the Drake Relays are contributing to that. As a four-day spectacle, it’s brought current and future Olympic athletes to the region for more than a century. Come spring, the Drake Relays is on the list of every athlete in the world.

In 2018, we expect more than 50 Olympians to compete, including gold medalists, world champions and even multiple world record holders.

Drake Relays impact

What I’ve learned the most as director of the Relays is how many people have a deep connection to it. People will sometimes recognize me and tell me their Drake Relays family story from their grandfather competing in the 1930s or ‘40s or their grandchildren in the 21st century, with many stories spanning this entire range.  

The Relays are part of the fabric of who we are as Iowans. I want to expand that and touch the life of every Iowan.

But that’s not the only impact. The Drake Relays bring $4.2 million of economic activity to the region each year, positively impacting the service industry and hotels especially.

Athletics are one of the most popular sports internationally and, in the U.S., reigns as the highest participated sport in the country. Having the prestige of the Drake Relays in DSM with its 14 world and 49 U.S. records is symbolic of the excellence here in DSM. It’s a seed that helps other athletic meets blossom in the region and makes DSM a destination year-round.

Are you interested in moving to Greater Des Moines (DSM)? Relocation Packets offer information on everything from neighborhoods to shopping, parks and local attractions. Or, kick start your career by checking out the DSM USA Career Center. It has over 10,000 jobs listed!