UAB Gurney Derby Champs Share their Secrets to Success
It’s a dynasty in the making. At the 2010 UAB Gurney Derby, a team of first-year students from the School of Dentistry calling themselves Mixed Dentition took the top slot, outrunning teams from all over campus as they raced to victory. One year later, Mixed Dentition (above, on the way to a decisive win in its first heat) came back with the same four runners, and once again left with the victory. They already plan to be back for another victory in 2012. (See a video of this year's event here.)
For decades, the Gurney Derby has been one of UAB’s most popular Homecoming traditions. Teams of four—each must have two men and two women—race down a cordoned-off stretch of 13th Avenue South and back to the starting line while pushing a retired hospital gurney.
Teams representing the university’s professional schools often do well in the race—the fact that they have a few additional years of muscle, and guile, built up over the undergraduates may play a role. But there are other key factors involved in coming home with the crown, say the members of Mixed Dentition.
Here the dentists-in-training share their tips for cleaning up on the competition.
Tip 1: Pick the right gurney.
The gurneys come out of hospital storage and are delivered to the starting line on the morning of the event. Like shopping carts, some tend to pull to one side, or have balky wheels. The Mixed Dentition crew (left to right: Ashley Tate, Matt Gibson, McKennna Rhea, and Jordan Taylor) arrives well in advance of the start time in order to get a good one.
Mixed Dentition picked well. In fact, they bettered their 2010 time by nearly two seconds, winning in 28.37 seconds this year, compared to a time of 30.27 last year.
Tip 2: Choose a light passenger.
An inanimate passenger must occupy each gurney, but teams who are interested in winning know they need to keep the weight down. Mixed Dentition (that's Rhea, Gibson, Tate, and Taylor, now that they have their helmets off and you can see them better) pushes Ernie from Sesame Street.
Even with a featherweight rider, sprinting flat-out twice—once during the heats and once in the final round—isn’t easy. Here, Mixed Dentition members catch their breath after the first race.
Tip 3: Wear uniforms.
Most Gurney Derby teams aim to make a splash with their outfits. (Too Fast, Too Femorous: The Tibial Drifts, a team from the School of Health Professions, shown above, came in second in the 2011 Derby.)
Mixed Dentition opts for the standard-issue uniform they wear every day—scrubs, bunched up under their kneepads for full freedom of movement. “The scrubs give us power,” says Taylor.
Tip 4: Bring a support team.
The raucous crowd on 13th Avenue is eager to support all the runners, but having a specialized cheering section helps.
Fellow dental students join Mixed Dentition to celebrate for the cameras after their win.
Tip 5: Use your head.
Do the members of Mixed Dentition practice in the weeks leading up to the Gurney Derby? “Every Saturday—we even flew in former Derby winners to work with us,” jokes Matt Gibson, before denying that the team does any pre-race training. Still, Mixed Dentition does have some specific tactics that it is not willing to divulge (although it's possible they can be deduced from the race pictures above).
“Last year, our win was all heart,” says Taylor. “This year it was all strategy.”