South Medford High hurdler Micah Diaz, right, talks with coach Joe King during a recent practice at Spiegelberg Stadium.

An unlikely bond

Micah Diaz describes his chance meeting with Joe King one morning this summer on the track at Spiegelberg Stadium as "a real blessing."

Indeed, the timing was nearly perfect and an unlikely bond was forged.

The encounter came nearly one month ago as Diaz, a 17-year-old hurdler and senior-to-be at South Medford, prepped for his shot at the National Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships.

He'd get that opportunity, qualifying in the 400-meter hurdles with a time of 58.72 seconds — good for third place — at the regional meet in Spokane, Wash., last weekend. He'll compete this Saturday and Sunday at nationals in Omaha, Neb.

He credits the 82-year-old King for much of his accomplishments.

"I wouldn't have done as good as I have if I wouldn't have met him," Diaz says.

Without the luxury of local track clubs, Diaz found himself training this summer without a coach to support and motivate his efforts or critique technique.

He resorted to asking maintenance workers to open the track in order to train by himself.

That was until a month ago when King entered the picture.

The former Bay Area teacher and track coach, as well as World War II veteran, only used the Spiegelberg track that day after construction at North Medford's Bowerman Field forced him and a friend to move the location of their workout.

"It was the first time I'd ever been there," says King, now a Central Point resident.

That's when he spotted Diaz.

"We just got to talking, I found out he was a coach, and I was looking for one," Diaz says. "It just worked out. It was great."

King initially approached Diaz when he noticed Diaz's trailing foot occasionally hit the hurdles. King suggested he tape cardboard to the top of the hurdle and lower it to avoid potential injury.

"About the time I did another lap, he said, 'Can I run with you and talk with you,'" King says. "My impression of him was that he has tremendous talent. He's one of the best high school hurdlers I've seen in some time. Once he masters that trailing leg a little better, he has tremendous potential."

The two continue to meet once a week, working together on techniques and exercises.

"We've been hoping for someone who could take an interest in (Micah) and help him with technique," says Sherri Diaz, Micah's mother. "It's been nice. Micah really believes that's why he's at where he is."

King is admittedly more of a distance-running expert — he owns three age-group distance world records — but he's naturally a teacher and has leaned on friends in the track community for hurdling advice.

"There are a lot of things I don't do very well, but I think I teach fairly well," King says. "When I see somebody running and I'm driving, I have to fight the urge to get ahead of them and stop the car and say, 'I can show you ... what you are doing wrong.'"

"I saw (Diaz) and I saw real potential," King adds. "He still has quite a ways to go, but the talent is there. He's impressive. I didn't want to upset what he's been doing, I'm just trying to add some things that might help him some more."

The results are hard to argue with.

Diaz had never competed in the 400 hurdles, a grueling test of endurance, prior to the summer. He primarily competes in the 110 and 300 hurdles at South Medford, reaching state in both events last season.

Diaz made a two-second improvement in the 400 over a three-week span from the state meet to the regional meet this summer.

"Adding that extra 100 meters has been difficult to adapt to, but with Joe, I'm adapting," Diaz says. "I would say he's helped me more in a couple days than any coaches at my high school. He's been really beneficial."

Diaz joins a field of 39 in the 400 hurdles at nationals and, in entering his final season at the high school level, is hoping to catch the eye of college scouts in attendance at the meet.

"This will be the closest thing to competing at state," Diaz says. "It keeps me running with higher competition. Mentally, it benefits me more than anything. I'm excited."

King, too, will compete in his own significant event: the Hayward Classic in Eugene on Aug. 2 where he'll potentially meet John Keston of Bend, the indoor mile record holder for their age group. King holds the outdoor mile record.

"It's an oddity that the two fastest over 80 (years old) mile runners live in Oregon," King says. "If we both can stay healthy, it should be an interesting race."

And when King and Diaz return to the Rogue Valley from their respective competitions, King has no intentions of letting a new friendship fade. He plans to inquire about coaching at South Medford next season.

"I'd like to follow him (Diaz) right through his high school career if I can do it," King says.

Reach reporter Luke Andrews at 776-4469, or e-mail

Share This Story