By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
A trip back to the states for one of Eastern New Mexico University’s all-time greats gave ENMU cross country coach Joel McMullen the chance to tie the past to the present.
And that he did through a 40-year celebration of Eastern’s program Saturday night at Cannon AFB’s The Landing.
While current runners of McMullen thumbed through a scrapbook of ENMU’s past glories, they could easily turn around and see the likes of Mike Boit and Rex Maddaford — athletes who put the Greyhounds on the running map in the early 1970s.
It was a visit by Boit, who won a bronze medal in the 800 meters at the 1972 Olympics, that helped McMullen come up with the idea of a reunion dinner.
“Since Mike Boit was going to be here to see his son graduate from Texas Tech, we thought it was the perfect opportunity to invite all the runners from ’66 until now for a big event to kick off our season next year,” McMullen said. “We think next year is going to be something really special.”
Boit is now Dr. Mike Boit, living and teaching back in his homeland of Kenya. Though his running marks are well over 30 years old, they’re still impressive to the current ranks at Boit’s old school.
“They’re still world-class records. Mike’s mile time is 3:54 and we haven’t had anybody that can run a 3:54 yet,” McMullen said. “I met him for the first time personally on Monday. I’ve been nervous before, but I am mentally humbled by him and Rex Maddaford and all these guys. They were icons for middle distance and distance running, and they’re icons for our program.”
It’s more than just old memories that keeps Boit interested in the current program. For instance, his nephew, Felix Boit, is now running with the Greyhounds.
“It’s been more than 30 years now since I was here,” Boit said. “I’ve been seeing people in town. I’ve been having a good time, and I’m looking forward to seeing a lot more while I’m here.”
Boit said he doesn’t run anymore, mostly because of an automobile accident that happened 10 years ago.
“I’m inspired by the fact that cross country is coming back to Eastern New Mexico,” Boit said. “I’ve talked to a number of (ENMU runners), to give them some encouragement, to give them a little advice here and there.
“A lot of young people sometimes have high expectations and they expect too much,” he added. “They can get a little disappointed. Sometimes, you have to take time for everything to happen.”
In one way, the current program is starting to resemble the ENMU teams that won NAIA national championships in 1973 and 1974. Just as Boit was recruited to the school out of Kenya when he was a young runner, his nephew Felix and Kennedy Baiywo on the current squad are also from Kenya.
The same is true for one of Eastern’s top recruits for next year, Nirod Lelei, who is transferring from Wayland Baptist. Lelei said he was familiar with Mike Boit’s name when he was growing up in Kenya.
“And because he came to New Mexico, it gives me motivation to come here and do good also,” Lelei said.