Running On: How Track Built A Lifelong Friendship



Turner Dirrigl (left) and Jordan Obrochta have become close friends thanks to St. Joseph’s College Institute’s track and field program. (Mike Pesarchick/The Griffin) 


By Mike Pesarchick

Sports Reporter

Picture this: Summer 2013 is rapidly coming to an end.  A group of wide-eyed freshman step onto the track at the Robert Scott Athletic Complex at St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute in Kenmore, N.Y., for their very first practice.

They come from all walks of life – some black, some white, some rich, some poor. This doesn’t matter; on the track, everybody sweats the same.

These young men don’t realize it quite yet, but they are on two tracks. Lying ahead on one track waits hard work, awards, fame, fortune, et cetera. Material things. The second track, though, isn’t one that everyone can see.

It sounds like a Rod Serling monologue, but this second track is purely mental, emotional, and spiritual. Along it, a person will pass relationships, friends, family, new life experiences that cannot really be trained for. Do as many curls as you want, it won’t quite prepare you for that brutal falling out you’ll have with your best friend when you’re 23.

Somewhere along the second track, Canisius freshmen Turner Dirrigl and Jordan Obrochta became friends. Since then, they’ve run countless races together, becoming better and better runners over their high school careers. Dirrigl and Obrochta both committed to wearing Blue and Gold and began a new race.

This piece is getting ahead of itself. Let’s go back a few years.

Picture this: Blue skies look down on a black rubber track behind St. Gregory the Great Elementary School in Williamsville, N.Y. It’s Dirrigl’s first taste of track, introduced to him by a coach. He takes well to it and continues with it as he follows in the footsteps of his father and brother attending St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute.

While Dirrigl ran in his freshman year, Obrochta would not be found on the track, but rather on the soccer field. Like Dirrigl, though, he would become a runner during his sophomore year after heavy encouragement from coach Chris Mekelburg.

“Even as freshmen, we knew they had potential,” said Marauders’ coach Matthew Dow. Of course, Charles Schulz once said, “There is no heavier burden than an unfulfilled potential.” Dirrigl, Obrochta and the rest of the team had long days of hard workouts ahead to tap it.

Back to 2013. An awkward tension hangs over the runners. For the most part, they are strangers to each other. A blast of the coach’s whistle begins the 2013-14 track season, and the athletes quickly find that teams get to know each other when sharing wind sprints becomes a source of camaraderie.

“I think one of the great things about running is you bond doing something that gets you stronger together,” Dirrigl stated.

While talent certainly helps, there is no replacement for hard work (thanks, Kevin Durant). Dirrigl and Obrochta began to improve their craft with every race and workout.

“Still even now I have races where I let that dude kick me, he went ahead of me, he took the lap,” said Obrochta. “I think those are races that I have to look back on and be like I can definitely do more. I can push more.”

Endless workouts brought stark improvement, and the two were “leaps and bounds” above their earlier levels, as Coach Dow puts it. At the 2017 All-Catholic Championships, Dirrigl and Obrochta helped the Marauders to a top finish after scoring high marks in the 1600- and 3200-meter races.

If you’ve stuck with this piece thus far, you’re probably wondering what the big deal is. So they’re friends through track, so what? This writer, a bowler in his high school days, had similar thoughts embarking on the production of this story.

Dirrigl put it better than I ever could, a lesson he was told from legendary St. Joe’s coach Matthew Hellerer, a member of the WNY Running Hall of Fame.

“One of the hardest things to do is to be able to race by yourself,” Dirrigl said. “It seems like an individual sport … when you have a training partner that you can rely on and get times with for workouts, it’s incredibly easier.”

Running has shaped their lives in too many ways to count. It’s given them a close friendship, put them into shape, and has taken them to new personal highs.

“It helps you become a person, you’re becoming a man,” said Obrochta. “This is not just a sport, this is more of a life goal looking towards the future for best friends and what the future holds.”

Picture this: It’s a chilly winter day in 2018. Two friends brought together by a sport that is so much more than what it seems, sprint through the silent whiteness of a Buffalo winter. They push each other on, on their physical track and their spiritual one, to become better versions of themselves.

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