Student tuition currently pays for half of Houston’s $60 million athletic budget, of which track operates on roughly $2.2 million per year. “For lack of better terms,” says Burrell, “we don’t really care what others think. We’re doing this with the resources we have.”
Luckily, one of those resources is a brand-new, state-of-the-art, $2 million indoor hydraulic track donated by Net Lease Capital, installed in the university’s Yeoman Fieldhouse, fresh for the 2019 season. Having access to this track, of which there are only 10 in the country—including the one they’ll compete on at this year’s Division I NCAA Indoor Championships in Birmingham, Alabama—should give UH students a leg up.
The program has other advantages, too. Its track coaches still employ the training system developed by retired coach Tom Tellez, who took a scientific approach to coaching, incorporating physiology, kinesiology, and biomechanics into his regime to help his runners get fitter and faster. “He went down to NASA and was like, ‘Excuse me, is this correct?’” says Lewis. It was. Tellez published his research in scientific journals, and his methods are still used today throughout the world.
Lewis has added his own spin to that program. Runners work out in tiered groups based on their 60-meter times—some guys can run 6.5, others 7.0. So, Lewis explains, their objective becomes, Oh my goodness, I want to get into the next group. “It creates competition in practice,” he says. Meanwhile, his work with the sprinters has freed up Burrell to think strategically about the bigger picture and focus on developing 400-meter runners.
There’s also another asset. “We have the best city in the world for high school track and field,” says Lewis. Kids who are serious about running here usually join a youth track club. Lewis, Burrell, and a few fellow Olympians helped start one, CL Stars, in 2001. Joe DeLoach, the 200-meter Olympic gold medalist, serves as coach.