Graham Blanks couldn’t take any more of the sitting around. It’s a common sentiment around the country at the moment.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had people in their homes for nearly three months. The death of George Floyd and the protests that have followed have dragged those sheltered in place out into the streets.
COVID-19 ended Blanks’ senior track season at Athens Academy in March. The down time and boredom birthed an idea for Blanks to try and find a way to continue to improve as a runner. Blanks will be heading to Harvard University on a cross-country and track scholarship in the fall.
He decided to move forward with under the tutelage of his future college coach Alex Gibby to replace what was going to be his final season of track. Gibby is HU’s associate head coach.
The new workouts were a step up in intensity for the three-time state champion Blanks. He was running practice runs at the speeds of his junior year personal records.
“Normally my temper runs would be about 5 minutes and 30 seconds per mile and coach Gibby moved them down to about five flat or five minutes and 10 seconds per mile,” Blanks said. “That was probably the biggest shock to my body. I would go through the 5k in like 15 minutes and 40 seconds, which was like my PR in my junior year. That’s how I knew I was in shape.”
Blanks decided to close out his scheduled break in training with something meaningful. At first, Blanks planned a 3200-meter run. Blanks entered his final track season with the goal of running a time faster than nine minutes.
Blanks thought about how to make it more of a challenge. The running app, Strava has circuits that have leaderboards from runners that have run the courses around the area.
Oconee Veterans Park’s course record belonged to professional runner Ben True. Blanks had his aiming point. He aimed to get even more creative.
Blanks found True’s contact information and interviewed him in a podcast-like interview discussing what he was attempting.
Blanks then made a bet that for every second he broke the record by he would donate $5 to the Athens YMCA. For every second he finished under 9 minutes he would donate another $25 to the Athens YMCA.
When the run was over, Blanks donated $500 to the Athens YMCA after finishing the course in 8:37.00 for the 1.99-mile course to break True’s record.
Through all the promotion for his run, Blanks felt it inappropriate to place hype around a run and not bring light on the social injustices being protested around the world. Blanks felt his run was his opportunity to do his part in the fight.
“It’s kind of embarrassing for how long it’s taken for people to actually start standing up for systematic inequality,” Blanks said. “The best way that it has been put is that silence is violence. If you’re a bystander, you’re no better than a racist. You can’t be not racist. You have to be anti-racist. I think right now it’s really important for everyone to take a stand.”
Athens Academy cross country head coach Geoffrey Walton wasn’t surprised by the way in which Blanks spent his time off. Walton remembers Blanks being eager to make himself socially conscious since he was in middle school.
“He’s always been someone who is socially conscious and wants to do the right thing to help others out,” Walton said. “I believe he will continue doing that throughout college and life. I think that’s engrained in who he is as a person.”