This & That

Rarely do athletic achievements catch me by surprise anymore. Last week, a former Vermont high school athlete had a performance that stood me upside down. It took me a few days to hear about it, but when I did I thought, “Golly gee, that really happened?”

I don’t ever remember hearing about Elle Purrier. Have you? I had heard about the Millrose Games, and Purrier stole the show at this year’s edition, held at the Washington Heights Armory in New York City. The event, which is often the place numerous indoor track records are broken each year, found Purrier setting a new mark for America in the indoor mile. Until 2011, the Millrose Games had been held in New York’s Madison Square Garden for 97 years – kind of showing you what kind of an event this is.

Bellows Falls track and cross country coach Tim Eno remembers Purrier. “Yes sir, I remember her. She ran both track and cross country, and she was state champ in all her events. She was second in the mile at the New Englands in her senior year,” he said. However, Eno admitted that he never saw anything about this record performance coming.

Purrier, who is now 24 years old, ran at tiny Richford High School. She went on to compete at the University of New Hampshire. She is New England through and through. The record she broke at the Millrose Games had stood longer than she has lived. The record had stood the test of challenge for 37 years and now it belongs to Purrier. She ran a come-from-behind 4:16.85 mile, which is the second fastest at the Millrose Games ever, regardless of competitors’ country affiliation.

Believe it or not, Purrier had no idea what the records were. That wasn’t a territory in which she had envisioned herself at all.

Purrier’s career at the University of New Hampshire had brought her national notoriety, even though she really didn’t understand her elevated stature. She admitted she did expect to better her personal best mile, which had been 4:24.88 the year before. Obviously her showing that day caught her by surprise. She certainly drew plenty of attention when in 2018 she was the indoor NCAA mile champion while competing for UNH.

Since Purrier was caught off-guard by her accomplishment; it left members of the media scrambling to figure how this accomplishment fit in the scheme of things of Vermont sports heroics all-time. How many Vermonters had ever forged their way into a position of notoriety at the national level to this extent? The Burlington Free Press even went so far as to create a top 10 list of Vermont sports history achievements.

The Free Press has Purrier in sixth place. However, since their list came out Feb. 14, many have debated the order and some of the achievements. Many have wondered if area star Carlton Fisk’s career is eligible for the list. Fisk was born in Bellows Falls but was a Charlestown resident. However, he played baseball for the Bellows Falls Legion team during his career.

There is also another strange twist to whether Fisk belongs. I have argued with the Red Sox over the years until I was blue in the face over whether Fisk belonged to New Hampshire. They put out a release each year on New Hampshire Day and Fisk is never on it because, they say, he wasn’t born there and so was never a native.

I tell them every year that he is a native New Hampshire resident and had lived there until he graduated from college. The only reason he was born in Vermont was because the closest hospital to his house was located there. He grew up a Granite Stater through and through.

When you look it up online, the word born is attached to being a native. They are wrong. Good thing that whomever created that definition wasn’t a potential baseball player. Because the one who stood by that interpretation of Fisk’s native home state definitely could have never hit a curveball.

Back to The Free Press list of achievements, they had alpine skiier Andrea Mead Lawrence’s achievement of winning two gold medals at the 1952 Winter Olympics as the top Vermonter sports achievement. She was victorious in both the slalom and the giant slalom in those games. She was from Rutland, Vt.

The number two honor was the hockey career of John Leclair who grew up in St. Albans and scored 50 goals three seasons and earned a Stanley Cup championship the last time the Montreal Canadians captured the title.

The sport of golf took the next spot in the person of Middlebury’s Patty Sheehan, a 35-time winner on the PGA Tour.

Fourth and fifth place were awarded to another golfer Keegan Bradley – a Woodstock native whose come-from-behind triumph in the 2011 PGA Championship cemented his legacy – and Springfield’s Alfred Gutterson for his track and field exploits.

To me, it is still amazing that up until about a year ago, I never knew anything about Gutterson other than his name was attached to a hockey rink at the University of Vermont. I had heard about “The Gut” for years, but didn’t know who Gutterson was – least of all that he was from Springfield.

Gutterson is the only Vermont-born athlete to win a medal at the Summer Olympics. He graduated from UVM and won the Gold Medal in the long jump in record-breaking fashion at the 1912 Olympics. Not only did Gutterson win the medal in the event, but he beat the legendary Jim Thorpe in doing so.

The Free Press placed Purrier’s record-breaking effort in the sixth spot. I am just sitting here wondering whether Purrier can elevate her spot on the list with future performances in her career. Are the Olympics possibly in her future?

Behind Purrier, in places seven through 10, are Guilford’s Bill Koch, who won a Silver Medal in 1976 at the Winter Olympics; Grand Isle’s Clarence DeMar, who won a Bronze Medal in the 1924 Olympic Games and won the Boston Marathon a record seven times; snowboarder Kelly Clark from West Dover who won three Olympic half-pipe medals, a gold, and two bronze and 14 X-Games medals in an 18-year period; and finally Crossfit athlete Mat Fraser from Colchester, who has won four World Championships in the sport in as many years.

Obviously, for The Free Press poll, Fisk didn’t count. Everyone has their own personal pecking order when it comes to accomplishments such as this, but The Free Press list is a jumping-off place and everyone goes from there.

It was interesting that in my exchange with Eno about where to place Purrier’s feat, He offered, “Bill Koch’s second place in the Olympics may be more impressive,” and I would tend to agree, but I guess we are just getting started.

If you would like to send me your order of Vermont achievements, feel free to do so and you might even come up with one or two not listed. You may always contact me at bmurphy@vermontjournal.com.

Goodbye for now

Back at the turn of the decade, when I wrote the final This & That column, I never said goodbye. As time goes on, I had decided to cut back my work schedule. When I told publisher Robert Miller I had chosen to step down, he encouraged me to write when idle time allowed me to.

While still contemplating if there would be any real idle time, I penned that last piece without passing on to readers what my intentions were. Now that I believe I realize my intentions, I hope to continue writing at least 12 columns a year for this newspaper when my schedule allows me to comfortably fit it in. I thank every reader for following my contributions over time and cherish the feedback you have given over the years. Goodbye, until we meet again.

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