By Gord Bowes, News staff
Next Thursday’s seventh annual Mark Graham Memorial Invitational Track and Field Meet couldn’t be held at a more appropriate time.
This year, the annual meet held in the local soldier’s memory takes on a little more meaning as it comes one day before the a national day of honour for soldiers who fought in Afghanistan.
The annual race is run in memory of Pte. Mark Anthony Graham, a four-time OFSAA 400m champion from 1989-1992 who attended Sir Allan MacNab Secondary School and went on to run for Canada in the 1992 Olympics.
Graham was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2006, the first Hamilton soldier to die in combat for Canada since the Korean War.
“Mark not only participated in the Olympics for his country, but he also gave his life,” said Dan Clark, the athletics convenor at MacNab and organizer of the Graham meet.
Last year, 38 schools and over 1,000 athletes took part in the meet. It’s one of the first of the outdoor season in this area and is also a little out of the norm in that athletes are encouraged to try new events, not just participate in their specialty.
Athletes pay a flat fee of $10 (or maximum of $300 for a school) for as many events as a student wants to partake in.
“We’re trying to encourage kids to get involved in every aspect of track and field,” said Clark. “If you come to the meet and you decide you’ve never long jumped but you always thought you might be good at it, you can go long jump.”
“Anything you want to do, you can do.”
Any surplus money made at this year’s meet will help offset travel or equipment costs for MacNab teams or upgrades in the fitness room.
A donation is also being planned for a breakfast program supported by Mount Ward Past Students’ Association, a charity supported by Graham’s father, Albert, which runs at his former elementary school in Jamaica.
Details are still being finalized, but the plan is to give a $100 donation in the name of any record breaker at the meet.
“It’s quite difficult everywhere for kids going to school,” said Albert Graham.
The signature events of the meet are 400-metre feature races — the Mark Graham Invitational for boys and Susan Kosak Invitational for girls.
Eight participants in last year’s 400s went on to win a medal at OFSAA, said Clark.
The meet runs all day May 8 at Mohawk Sports Park beginning at 9:30 a.m.