Childhood Sports Stories: Episode 3


Jennie Abbott and Hayley VanDuyne

Most of us know Mrs. Swanson as the math teacher with the coolest jokes around. I bet you didn’t know, that she was a track star at her town’s local prison. Vienna, Illinois had a population of about 1400. A small town and education program, track/cross country was only available for them in middle school. At the age of 13, Mrs. Swanson would hop on the bus after a busy day at school and ride with her teammates to the local prison where they would practice and have weekly track meets. As shocking as that might sound today, the prison was a gateway to a normal life for the prisoners. They assisted in facilitating practices and meets, keeping a good attitude so they can be let out at their scheduled sentence time. 

On meet days, the facility would be packed with parents and participants just as any other school. The prisoners would be there, timing the races, helping with field events, and running the show. 

Mrs. Swanson loved to run, especially long distance. She enjoyed being active and participating. After her middle school track days, she played basketball and managed the softball team, doing every sport the school had to offer. Her most memorable moment was helping with a track meet in grade school. She had the honor of holding the “finish ribbon”. To her surprise, she found out it was NOT a ribbon. Her and her friend forgot to let go of the strong string when the runner crossed and he ended up getting close lined (FOR REAL).