By: Simon Bowen

Today at the Penn Relays is not just an ordinary day. Jamaicans from all walks of life take this event seriously and thus, mark this on their calendar each year.

When you visit the Penn Relays and see all those Jamaican flags flying in the air, it’s not only symbolic, but emotional. Our history dates back to the days of Herb McKenley and George Rhoden, Merlene Ottey, Veronica Campbell and Asafa Powell. These people are all reasons why we make this event a national one.

Our pride as Jamaicans goes far back, we run to show that we can do anything once given the opportunity and it’s one of the main reasons why we compete at the Penn Relays — to showoff the world-class athletes of our proud nation.

As a former athlete, there’s no better feeling than showing up to the Relays prepared, and then going out there and putting pain on your opponent’s faces.

In Jamaica, high schoolers train like Olympians, competing each year for a spot to be here and for colleges across the United States to see their talent.

Once you compete in the Penn Relays, you become a high school superstar back home on the island.

Another main reason this event is so important to Jamaicans is the media coverage and exposure that it provides to the country. Jamaica is a big tourist destination with a national economy that relies on the tourism industry. Because of this, several Jamaican sponsors such as Grace Kennedy, Jamaican National Building Society make this trip in order to target Jamaican citizens living here in the states.

So this trip is not only about a sporting event and national pride, it’s also about business!

Simon is a native Jamaican who ran at the Penn Relays from 1992-96 while a student-athlete at George Mason University. In 1993, he anchored the Patriot’s sprint medley College Men’s Championship of America team, defeating Olympian Tony Parrilla of Tenessee on the anchor leg.