Coming out of high school, Boyd Gittins had a clear picture of his future and college wasn’t part of the program.
It was the summer of 1965 and Gittins was preparing to sign over his remaining teenage years to the army, until he was presented with a proposition too good to pass up.
Rather than enlist, Gittins accepted an offer to join the Shoreline Community College track and field team.
“It probably saved my life getting that scholarship,” said Gittins, who ran for Shoreline for two years before going on to star for Washington State University and qualify for the 1968 Olympics.
Gittins returned to Shoreline to coach cross country for one season in the ’80s and currently teaches martial arts at North Seattle and Seattle Central community colleges.
As a tribute to his achievements, Gittins was part of this year’s Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges Hall of Fame class.
Not surprisingly, track commitments kept Gittins from making the June 3 induction ceremony. For the same reason, he missed his senior prom as well as his bachelor’s and master’s degree commencements.
Only this time, Gittins was a spectator. He was watching his 14-year-old daughter win the quarter-mile at her middle school’s championship meet.
“She’s amazing. She’s everything I ever wanted to be,” Gittins said. “She’s a straight-A student, she plays a musical instrument, she does six sports, she’s got a black belt in karate.”
It’s no mystery where her natural athleticism comes from. In his prime, Gittins was a world-class hurdler and his path to the Olympics can be traced back to Shoreline.
Gittins swept the high and intermediate hurdles races at the Washington Athletic Association of Community Colleges championships two years in a row and set school and conference records in both events. His mile relay team never lost a race in two seasons and Shoreline captured back-to-back WAACC titles in 1966 and ‘67.
Following his junior year at Washington State, Gittins was invited to a U.S. national team qualifying meet in Los Angeles. During his final heat of the 440-yard hurdles, Gittins encountered an unusual obstacle but still managed to earn a ticket to Olympic training camp.
“Some pigeon droppings hit me in my eye. I was lucky to finish,” Gittins said. “It’s hard enough to have depth perception of all the hurdles with both eyes. I had to close one eye.”
Because the Summer Games were in Mexico City that year, Gittins and the other Olympic hopefuls headed to Lake Tahoe for three months of high-altitude training and time trials. In three rounds of qualifying, Gittins clocked the fastest hurdles times of his career.
“I like to tell people, ‘The first day I tied the (WSU) school record, the second day I tied the (national) collegiate record and the third day I tied the world record. And I finished second all three times,’” Gittins said. “It was frustrating, but it was fun. I had a ball.”
Second place landed Gittins a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team. With a month to go before the Games, the squad went to Denver to complete its training. The athletes were given their uniforms and Gittins was administered a small pox vaccination.
The shot triggered an adverse reaction. Gittins became so stiff and sore, no amount of stretching or exercise would loosen his aching muscles.
“I couldn’t shake it,” Gittins said. “But two days before my race I had to get out and do some training. I was working on my starts and on my second hurdle I blew my hamstring out.”
The injury caused Gittins to pull out of the competition. He attempted to qualify for the Olympics again in 1972 and ‘76, but was slowed by injuries both times.
“I had a nice, long run,” said Gittins, a two-time All-American at Washington State.
It’s not over just yet. His 400-meter hurdles time of 49.27 seconds from the Lake Tahoe Olympic Trials still stands as the WSU record 36 years later.
Other than a few trophies, Gittins doesn’t display much memorabilia from his hurdling heyday around his Lynnwood home.
“I was never into collecting hardware,” Gittins said. “That wasn’t what it was about. It was all about the competition and going places.”