We’re here with Coach Orville Sweeney, Creator of Needle Eye Spikes and founder of the organization by the same name. You’ve developed this product we haven’t seen before called Needle Eye Spikes. Tell us about the concept and what it’s meant to do and who you think it can help.
Spikes help the athlete’s shoes grip the running surface so that he or she can have better traction during performance. When spikes wear down it literally becomes a drag and can negatively impact performance.
I developed Needle Eye Spikes because for as long I can remember, it was always very hard to remove worn spike implements from the shoes. That can be very frustrating for an athlete. You’re getting ready for an event and need to change your worn spikes and there’s no way to change it without attempting to use grip pliers, hacksaws and other tools that don’t belong anywhere near a track. Not only is it a source of frustration and a time-waster when you’re at the bleachers trying to get to your next event without being “scratched” – it can also ultimately be a waste of money if the shoes in question are relatively new, but not able to be worn.
So I’ve leveraged my experience and my expertise to figure out how to perfect this product so athletes can just focus on their performance without the distractions of equipment failures. I was wondering what would happen if, similar to the eye of a needle, there was a tiny little hole in the spike and I could “thread” a tool through that hole. That’s how Needle Eye Spikes was born. I decided to take that concept and run with it.
That’s so innovative and at the same time, everyone is wondering how the field has existed for so long without solving this issue. Good for you. Now let’s learn a little more about you. Coach Orville, can you tell me when was the first time in your life when you realize you could run? How did you discover your talent for running?
I was in junior in high school in New York and my best friend, Warren, challenged me to a race. I’d never run track before but ever since I was in elementary school, we always had “Field Day” and I was always one of the fastest in the school. So I discovered track when my best friend challenged me to a race and I joined the track team so that I could race him. That’s when I fell in love with track. I was hooked from the very beginning.
Who are some of your earliest mentors in the sport and who helped you develop your skills?
Growing up, my hero as far as running was Jesse Owens and I’ve always admired how he persevered through all the hardships in the 1930’s, trying to compete despite the racial divide. But he persevered and was able to go to the Summer Olympic Games in Germany which made an impact on racism worldwide.
I also had mentors. For example, Norman Tate who was the 1968 Olympian helped me with my jumping and in field events. My coaches in high school, Dennis Kornfield and Leigh Pollet – they both also helped me to go forward with my career. These gentlemen were just tremendous mentors for me and took a special interest in me as a student-athlete, just as a young man coming up. It was so much more than about the sport – they used the sport to help develop the whole person. Dennis Kornfield has been the boys’ track coach at Uniondale High School in Uniondale, NY for decades. He has also served as the public address announcer at The Armory in Manhattan, NY. Both Kornfield and Pollet have been inducted into the Coaches Hall of Fame at the Armory and I still admire them both.
You ran track in college, right? So tell us about that experience. What was it like becoming a student-athlete at the collegiate level?
The freshman year coming right out of high school…trying to make that transition is always a bit difficult, given that it’s your first time away from home and you have to get used to balancing academics and athletics in college. So it was a major adjustment for me. But after the first year, you know, with the team bonding and also developing a close relationship with my former coach, Jim Hannigan, that helped me with making the adjustment in college. I majored in Business and received my Bachelors in Management with a concentration in Sports Industry Management.
What about your transition from the H.S. track to the College track?
Well, to be honest coming out of high school I was one of the top jumpers in the nation. Just before the State Championship in my senior year I was on the 4 x 100 relay team. We were trying to break the state record, but I was also doing the long jump, the triple jump, the 4 X 100 and a 4 X 400 relay. In the process of going back and forth among all those events, I suffered an injury. I remember running the second leg of the “four by one” and halfway down the track, I pulled my hamstring. I kept running anyway which was not a smart move. The team still won by 3 seconds even though I ran about 50 meters on one injured leg, but because of that, it hindered the athletic career I wanted in college. I was not able to compete in the State Championship in high school and a lot of my scholarships were lost. When I went to college I was still bothered by the hamstring injuries – it took a few years for my leg to heal but once it did, that’s when I really started to get better in college. I started winning Championships and competing against all the big schools, the all-American and Big East, IC4A (Intercollege Association of Amateur Athletes America) etc.
As far as the physical work, that was also a big transition from high school to college. I remember, the first time I got to college – our practice was at Yale University. My coach very casually was like: “OK. You guys have to run 200 meters in 23 or 24 seconds – multiple sets.” So that was quite the challenge. I think after the first 2 two sets…man, I was dead, you know?! But as time went on with the hard work, I was able to get used to doing those really difficult workouts and slowly through perseverance, I started improving. I went from overcoming an injury to breaking school records, then conference records.
Ultimately you set the record for the long jump at your University right and that, as we understand it, is still an unbroken record. Tell us about the kind of work you did to be able to achieve that milestone.
Yes, that’s true. The records I set stood for almost 20 years and a few years ago my outdoor long jump on record was broken, but the indoor record still stands. As far as the workout, again, during my college career I was never at 100% because I was always plagued by that old hamstring injury, but I was able to still perform at a high level. But as far as my workout goes, I was able to get a lot of great treatment from a chiropractor-trainer and in addition to my regular practices, or even if we did not have practices, I still went out and practiced by myself. I was very self-motivated because I knew I could get better. If I had to miss out on some practices because of the injury, I always tried to work out on my own to make up for the practice that I’d missed.
You’ve been giving back in a number of ways to the Track community for decades now. Can you tell us a little bit about your coaching and your personal training activities and your work with schools and clubs?
Well, I’ve always tried to pay forward what I had growing up. Track is more than a sport. There’s a whole community there as running is one of the most inclusive sports out there. I had a lot of mentors and coaches who helped me to excel. Not only did they help me get better in my events, but just overall, they focused on my holistic development. I continued that tradition partly to honor them. Most recently, here in Illinois, I got involved with coaching at Neuqua Valley High School, coaching the field events for the Boys’ Track Team and I got really close to the athletes, many of whom went on to big colleges with track scholarships and made it to NCAA All-American teams. They continue to do well in the track events of the College. I also volunteer coach with the Aurora Sundowners Track Club and have drawn a lot of personal satisfaction from helping develop young, promising athletes, some of whom have qualified for the AAU Junior Olympics, and many of whom have gone onto College aided by scholarships. I also did some work with Benedictine University as an Assistant Coach where I worked with sprinters and long and triple jumpers.
Now, we heard that you really believe that the physical exercises and the personal training associated with track can help athletes involved in other sports. So talk to us about that and the potential for your product, Needle Eye Spikes, in other sports.
Sure. We are definitely looking at crossing over to many other sports. In fact, we have a patent pending with precisely that in mind. Simply put, for many sports where removable spikes provide traction – you know like baseball, soccer, golf, just to name a few examples, the concept can definitely cross over to these different sports and make life easier for those athletes. But setting aside the utility of the tool itself, I’ll say track and field is one sport that no matter what sport you participate in, whether it’s football, basketball, wrestling, swimming, it one of the best sports to develop athletes physically as far as coordination, balance, speed, agility, endurance, flexibility – you name it, track and field basically helps athletes in all sports.
You were inducted into the University of New Haven Chargers Hall of Fame in 2016. You’ve clearly made Track part of your life and lifestyle. Can you tell us what it means to you?
It was one of the proudest moments of my life, not so much because of what I did at UNH but what I’ve done since. The running community is one of the most welcoming and inclusive communities out there. I have been a part of it all my life and have had the privilege to help people from all walks of life, athletes and non-athletes alike. So I know what I’m talking about.
Wow, what a great story of trial and triumph! Coach Sweeney, thanks so much for sharing a little more about yourself and Needle Eye Spikes.
Thank you. I’m here to help.