image: UCLA Royce Hall
The sheer joy of competition, though the most important part of Lloyd La Beach’s drive in track and field in his early youth, would take second place to the challenges that lay ahead as a true competitor. The intricacies and demands of track and field required great study and patience and the immortal Lloyd La Beach won the admiration of his Panamanian Westindian coaches whose counsel he followed as closely as the games in Panama would have permitted him at the time.
The year 1945 would roll around to find Lloyd travelling again. This time it would not be the short trip from Jamaica to Panama by steamship, but via an airplane ride north as a university student- an up and coming college educated man. The University of Wisconsin in Marathon County, near Wausau, Wisconsin, which had been founded in 1933, awarded the exceptional athlete from Panama a complete scholarship with all expenses paid. Lloyd could, if he would accept to study and train with them in their athletic program, stay and graduate and even go on to graduate studies at the same institution of higher learning.
Lloyd La Beach arrived at the University of Wisconsin dormitory during the summer months and his jovial attitude enabled him to make friends easily amongst the Black students and the staff and athletes of the Physical Education Department. He started his training program with the enthusiastic and competitive spirit which characterized him as he gained recognition and admirers. However, as the winter months moved into that northern tundra with its typical record breaking snow falls, Lloyd was hard pressed to adapt. He felt confined and physically hampered as the cold weather interfered with his training program. Saddened and frustrated he felt there was little he or anyone could do about this unexpected turn of events.
The crew at the Black Student Union made his stay tolerable with trips by automobile to the dances held in the black sections of the small towns surrounding Wausau. They visited Marathon, Rib Falls and Little Chicago where the university crowd mingled and were welcomed by the people of the local Black community. In the meantime, the winter months seemed to make those places disappear under a blanket of deep snow making Lloyd feel ever more penned in.
The extreme climactic conditions were not only the cause of his general depression but he found that his home sickness for Panama and the old Olympic Stadium he had been used to training in with his Westindian friends from Calidonia, increased with every passing day. His exploits during those summer meets in Fresno (The Fresno Relays), however, would precede him all the way to Los Angeles, home of the University of California at Los Angeles. At the Fresno Relays fans could watch and cheer for their local athletes and at the same time view some of the finest athletes the world has seen. This diversity at Fresno is what makes the meets, even today, so unique, and why the 76 year old tradition has carried on and grown for so many years.
Soon, the dormitory phone rang off the hook and the coaches’ offices continuously received long distance calls regarding their star sprinter until arrangements were made for Lloyd to receive a scholarship in California.
The transfer student, Lloyd La Beach, would travel by air again cross country to meet the responsibilities his reputation as an up and coming sprinter entailed. The impressive Los Angeles International Airport was a spectacle of lights to make even the brave feel humble and insignificant. Within the crowd of recently arriving passengers was the now slightly more sophisticated college student who was concerned with how he was going to get to that famous UCLA campus in California. However, he soon spotted his name written on a makeshift card sign held up by someone in the crowd eagerly awaiting his arrival, and his worries vanished.
He approached the crowd and the person with the sign identifying him. “I am Lloyd La Beach!” he said to the bearer of the sign who turned out to be an assistant coach and they were off for a trip through the “city of angels” that Lloyd would soon enough get to know as home for the next few years until his graduation.
This story continues.