by Jack Sloan (’23) | November 18, 2022
The Saint Francis cross country team, led by Mr. Philip Pompei (’08), has a history of actively engaging with the larger running community. The team participates in service projects, such as volunteering to help maintain the Crystal Springs Cross Country Course, and invites guest speakers for motivation throughout the season. On October 19, the team paired with the Healing WELL, a wellness center in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, to bring in a unique guest speaker.
Markelle Taylor, more commonly known as “Markelle the Gazelle,” is a former San Quentin inmate turned professional runner. After qualifying for the Boston Marathon while being held at the San Quentin prison, his running success propelled him into fame. As of 2022, Taylor has been featured in the New York Times and the CBS Morning News. His documentary 26.2 to Life: The San Quentin Prison Marathon will soon premiere at the New York Film Festival.
Taylor became a runner out of necessity, as he started running while in prison to cope with the violent and depressing environment. “It was a warzone in there,” he told the Cross Country Team during his presentation. “I used running as my way of therapy. It was the way I could mentally survive inside the prison.”
Training for the upcoming New York City marathon, Taylor joined the Girls’ Team for their run before his presentation. His presence during practice was a great addition to the day, and his story proved to be an inspiration to many.
“He was really fun and jovial, and we had a great time with him on the run… But also he has a really deep, heavy story that he shared. So I feel like we got all sides of Markelle,” Pompei recounted.
Hinako Yamamoto (’23) commented, “I think it was really important to hear because it can be hard for us, if someone’s been in prison, to understand why he would be there in the first place and his situation. And I think it’s impactful to hear his story. Not to judge him, but rather to hear him and his side of the story.”
Fellow cross country runner Niko Muller (’23) reflected, “It was different experiencing firsthand how running can help you through anything in life, and Markelle proved that. His situation was super dire, but I can relate that to less dire situations, like how running has helped me through stress.”
Taylor’s interest in running started when he attended San Mateo High School, and ran at some of the same cross country races that the Saint Francis team competes in. Taylor ran an impressive time of 16:15 at the beloved Crystal Springs Cross Country Course in Belmont, where the CCS competition is usually held in November. Taylor challenged the athletes to try and beat his time at CCS, motivating Muller and his fellow teammate Utkarsh Agarwal (’23) at the November 12 CCS race.
“[Muller] ran a 16:10 at WCAL,” stated Agarwal, “which was faster than Markelle’s time, and I congratulated him and said that Markelle would be proud of him. [Muller] told us that we better all break his time next time, and I think that was a really inspiring remark. I feel like Markelle the Gazelle left his mark on us.”
The Boys’ Team placed second at CCS, with Muller and Agarwal beating Taylor’s time. The Girls’ Team also finished on the podium with third place, qualifying both teams for the CIF State competition. The team also sent Taylor handwritten letters of thanks and raised over a thousand dollars for Healing WELL. Taylor ended his presentation with final words of advice to the team: “Keep running, because I think that running is very powerful. There’s a lot of love in running.”