July 24, 2016

Partly cloudy

Arnold Track and Field Classic: Cloverleaf graduate teams up with Schwarzenegger

COLUMBUS — Lori (Melendez) Baldwin is about to put in a 14-hour work day she wouldn’t pass up for anything in the world.

Then again, it’s hard to when you’re working with one of the most recognized names in the world in Arnold Schwarzenegger.

By the time her day is done, 1,200 high school athletes will compete in the Arnold Track and Field Classic she puts on, and though she’ll be running around most of the day, there will always be a smile on the 1988 Cloverleaf graduate’s face.

That will be especially true when Schwarzenegger, the former California governor, body builder and actor who started the Schwarzenegger Sports Festival in 1989, pops his head into the French Field House on Ohio State’s campus to see how Baldwin is doing.

“He’s actually a cool guy,” Baldwin said. “He talks to me like a normal person. I feel like a rock star when he shows up.

“I’ve gotten to know him and all his bodyguards. They’ll call me and tell me they’re coming in and bring me into the circle and treat me like I’m famous. It’s just kind of cool.”

The Track and Field Classic, now in its fourth year, is cool because Baldwin has made it that way. The 17-event indoor meet, which takes place Saturday, will host athletes from Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.

How Baldwin’s involvement in the event came about is just as interesting.

A longtime track coach who never could leave the sport, the 44-year-old Newark resident trained many athletes on the side. It was never for money, but more for seeing individuals succeed. One of her success stories turned out to be eight-time state medalist Aaron Roberts of Heath.

Roberts went on to compete for Ohio State, and when former Buckeyes coach Robert Gary found out where much of his athlete’s success came from, he hired Baldwin as a sprint and hurdles coach.

When Baldwin arrived, she saw there wasn’t much in the program’s discretionary fund, so she started organizing high school track meets to raise money.

“I have such a strong passion for the sport,” Baldwin said. “I think it’s a great sport for kids to learn about life. It’s an individual sport, but a team sport. I love seeing kids succeed. I love seeing improvement in the kid’s attitude.”

Her own attitude didn’t go unnoticed as through a series of events — the Jesse Owens and Woody Hayes statues on campus are a product of her hard work — Baldwin landed a job as the Director of Strategic Initiatives in the office of business advancement affinity and trademark management for Ohio State.

While the job took her out of coaching, she still trains athletes on the side and has given herself quite a name in the track and field world — so much so that Schwarzenegger and business associate Jim Lorimer arranged to meet with Baldwin to get the track and field portion of the festival going.

“It was crazy,” Baldwin said. “I was like, ‘What?’ Even though I lived near Columbus, I didn’t know much about (the event).

“I knew a whole bunch of people came to town. That Arnold and Jim wanted me, it was like, ‘Wow. I must have made a name for myself.’ I didn’t realize I had.”

That name has become more well-known over the last few years, and now Schwarzenegger relies heavily on Baldwin to keep the event running without a hitch. He makes it a priority to stop in and say ‘Hi’ to Baldwin and the athletes.

It’s not about the prestige or the chance to rub elbows with the most famous bodybuilder of all time for Baldwin. It’s just another way to advance the sport and keep involved in something she loves.

“It’s not a lot of time for me,” she said. “This week is crazy, but for the prep up to it, it’s a few e-mails and calls.

“It’s pretty smooth. I’ve run these meets so many times. For the 45 minutes he shows up. It’s crazy. I love a challenge. I love track and field. Being around the kids is fantastic.”

Contact Brad Bournival at sports@medina-gazette.com.