10 Questions With..." JIM LAMBERT

Jim Lambert is the Gold Standard of High School XC / T &F journalism in New Jersey. His tenure with the Star-Ledger has been marked with some of the great highlights of running, jumping and throwing in the Garden State. Jim was kind enough to be the first person in 2007 to answer our "10 Questions."

1.)How did you get in to sports writing?
Having a father who coached multiple sports on the high school level, I grew up playing just about every sport, ironically track wasn't one of them. I was a high school baseball player.
I was a sports junkie growing up, studying every box score and every stat and reading every paper every day. At the same time, I always enjoyed writing essays in school. Putting thoughts into words came pretty easy to me and I found myself typing up stories on football and baseball games I used to go to. I'd compare what I wrote to what I read in the paper.
When I got to high school (Scotch Plains-Fanwood) I couldn't wait to join the school paper. I wrote for my college paper (East Stroudsburg) and it became obvious that sports writing was my future. I stopped paying attention to most other subjects (I did enough to get by) and focused on journalism.
I got a job at The Star-Ledger as a part timer in 1989 and covered swimming at first. There was a need for someone to help with track that spring, so I offered to do it. Soon after that, Ed Grant quit and I had to step into shoes that were 10 sizes bigger than mine.

2.)Your most memorable event in NJ Track / XC?
Seeing Craig Forys take down the once seemingly unbreakable Holmdel Park record at the Meet of Champions was by far the highlight of my career covering cross-country. After Forys ran 15:31 the week before in Group 4, no one (including himself) thought he would go 15:15 the next week. The way Forys ran the final 1.1 miles at the M of C (5:05) and the roar from the crowd as he blasted out of the woods was something I will never forget. I barley made it to the finish line in time. What a thrill!
As for track, Reuben McCoy's triple at the M of C in 2004 and his 46.0 anchor split at Penn that year to bring Winslow from behind to win the Championship of America title are at the top of my list.
McCoy won the 200 in 21.51, the 400 in 47.42 and the 400 hurdles in 51.62 at the M of C. He had a good shot at a fourth gold, but got tripped up and fell in the 4x400 on the first turn while running the anchor leg.
Also near the top of my list is the crazy triple by Fred Sharpe of Paulsboro in '97 at the M of C. He won the IH in 51.62, took 3rd in the 1,600 in 4:15.73 and then won the 800 in 1:53.50. When I asked him why he ran all 3 races, Sharpe responded, ``because I qualified in all 3.''
The 1997 M of C also saw Kevin DiGiorgio of Bayonne force the NJSIAA to renovate the shot put throwing area before the M of C after DiGiorgio hit the a railroad tie that bordered the area when he broke the state record at the Grouip 4 meet with a 68-7 1/4. It' a good thing they did because DiGiorgio threw even further at the M of C with a 68-11, which still stands as the state record.
At the 1998 M of C, Mikele Barber of Montclair won the 400 and her twin, MeLisa, won the 100. Then they went 1-2 in the 200. That was incredible.
3.)Best athlete you've covered?
Wow is this a tough one. There have been so many all-time greats that have passed through N.J. in my 17 plus years doing this. I will preface this by saying that I listed these based on what they did in high school. There are lots of athletes, most notably Steve Slattery, that I would put on top of my post-H.S. list.
Let me start out by throwing out all-timers.
There's Olympians Hazel Clark of Columbia (800) and sprinter Mikele Barber of Montclair, Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne of Overbrook, who set the state record in discus, Reuben McCoy of Winslow, Erin Donohue of Haddonfiield, Royce Reed of Bridgeton (won M of C titles in 400, 400 hurdles and the Javelin), Mike Morrison of Willingboro, Todd Matthews of Notre Dame, Craig Forys of Colts Neck, who has a great chance of breaking a couple state records and winning a national title before he graduates, Kevin and Glenn DiGiorgio of Bayonne, and of course the great Danielle Tauro of Southern, the best miler ever. I could go on and on.
Forced to pick one, I'd have to say that Donohue gets the nod among girls. I know Tauro is faster, but what Donohue did in the javelin and the fact that she was also a very good basketball player gives her the edge. For the guys, as of now I have to go with McCoy, in track. Craig Forys could change that and become No.1 in my book in track with monster seasons this indoors and outdoors.
In X-C, Tauro and Forys are no brainers..

4.) All time favorite movie?
For pure comedy I have to go with Clerks and Jackass. Remember The Titans was a classic in terms of a true story and Boondock Saints, Green Street Hooligans and any Clint Eastwood movie are way up on my list.

5.)Funniest moment as a journalist?
There are a few to choose from that didn't make me laugh at the time, but they have certainly become hilarious over time.
There was the time in the mid 1990's when I thought it would be a great idea to follow the Firecracker 4-Miler in Cranford on my bike so I could get splits and give a good play-by-play account of how the race unfolded. About 17 minutes after the race started, I realized it wasn't such a good idea.
As I was riding side-by-side with a pace bike about 20 meters ahead of the leaders when the two of us collided on a dirt path just after crossing the foot bridge with less than a mile to go in the race. I crashed to the ground and watched as runners jumped over and around me as I tried to get my foot out of the spokes on a my old 10 speed. I wound up walking to the finish line (15 minutes or so after the winners crossed) with my chain dragging on the ground, and my body covered in grease, dirt and some blood.
I also had a couple encounters with fences along the way. The first year I went to the Penn Relays, I thought I found a great short cut down to the javelin field. Bad idea.
I was running late, so instead of walking down to the stairs and then along that long path, I figured I could just cut across the train tracks and find a back way in. I got across the tracks ok, but there was no gate or entrance to the field, so I had to choose between climbing over the 10 foot fence, or crawling under it. I chose the latter and wound up getting my pants and jacket caught on the fence. I was stuck there for about 10 minutes trying to shake myself free. Meanwhile, there were high school javelin throwers warming up who saw me down there and someone asked me if I needed help. I did, but was too embarrassed to have anyone lend a hand. So I just kept clawing my way out. I had to take my jacket off, which was still stuck in the fence and coming apart at the seams each time I moved, in order to get out. When I finally got to the javelin area, I felt millions of eyes on me and my ripped pants and my shredded jacket.

6.) The biggest influence in your life?
My father, Jim. Besides coaching me and teaching me how to write stories (he was a school teacher), he taught me to let your heart show you the way and use your mind to keep you there. He always told me to always walk around like you have a pocket full of money and your best clothes on. He said that as long as you do your best at whatever you do, you should never worry about what anyone else thinks. Control the things you can and don't worry about the things you can't. It's pretty simple, but it works for me.

7.)What are your interests outside of covering HS Track / XC?
Well, since Track and X-C have become such a big part of my life, I do a lot of running (between 45-60 miles per week depending on race plans). Running in the Watchung Mountains is my favorite place to go. There is nothing better than trail running. Give me mud puddles, hills, some stray deer and the dogs without leashes chasing me over road running any day
I'm also a huge Miami Dolphins fan. Whenever they play, my family and I put on our Dolphins uniforms and go into the basement, which I turned into a sports bar and watch the game along with every other game (I love fantasy football) on the seven TV's I have down there. Naturally, my favorite thing to do is spend time with my 2 young daughters. I love showing them how to hurdle, long jump, hand off batons (what did you expect). I'm also very active in the PTA, serving as the playground committee chairman.

8.) How do you see the future of the sport in NJ?
I can't tell you how many times I have left the outdoor Meet of Champions and said that was the best M of C I have ever covered. And then either the next year or a couple years later, I say it again. The bottom line is that times and performances keep getting faster and more impressive. Because New Jersey is so rich in coaching talent and because athletes seem to be training harder than ever, I feel N.J. will forever be a major player in the national arena.

9.) Who in the NJ Track / XC community do you most admire?
. The first name that comes to mind is of course Ed Grant, the Godfather of N.J. Track. Without Ed, there would be no record of what has happened in N.J. Track and X-C over the last 50 plus years. He is New Jersey Track.
I also have to mention Reuben Frank, Paul Schwartz, and John Haley. Anyone that has done this longer than me has my respect. But it's not just their years of service, it's their dedication.
No one cares more about high school track athletes than Reuben, Paul and John. And Scott Clayton's wisdom and Jerry Carino's hard work have also earned my admiration.
Without the help of those above, there is no way I could keep a pulse on the whole state.
I also admire every high school track and field athlete and coach that pours everything they have into what they do. I know how hard the training and sacrifices are both mentally and physically. Regardless of talent level and, PR's, anyone that spills their guts to be the best they can be on that given day is someone I admire.
Thanks to the all the athletes for making my job not seem like one.

10.) What are your future racing plans?
I keep saying I will run my first marathon this spring, but who knows. I change my mind every week. My biggest goal has always been to break 19 in a 5K. for the past 3 years I have gotten 10 seconds faster each year, so at that rate I'll get under in a few more years. Getting faster makes getting older much easier to deal with. You kind of feel like you're cheating time.

See ya around the track.

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