Think about the bonds between fathers and sons. There's the passing of a surname from generation to generation. Sometimes the first name as well.
Then there's genetics: the color of the hair or eyes.
Maybe there's a shared passion: the love of a type of music or a sports team.
But it was only when Ben Malone became a teenager that his dad John discovered their atypical bond: a style of running.
John always knew Ben, his middle child, was fast. Ben was always the quickest kid on his youth soccer teams. And John Malone, who owns John Malone Textiles, knows fast. He was an all-Bergen runner and a member of the 1977 Bergen Catholic squad that became the first North Jersey team to win the state Meet of Champions in cross country. John went on to run at William & Mary.
While the River Vale dad always wanted his son to run track, he never pushed it, only suggesting he give it a try in middle school. Ben did, but for a variety of reasons, John never saw him run those first two years. (For instance, Ben turned an ankle practicing going over a hurdle at a seventh-grade meet when John had left work early to attend).
Finally, when Ben was in eighth grade, John saw him compete in a 400-meter heat at Pascack Valley High School. "I'd never seen myself run on film," John says. "But that's what it was like. Watching him run, it was like seeing myself run. It was a strange feeling."
"We both run up on our toes," Ben says, describing their gait. "Our heels never hit the ground."
That running style has served Ben well. Already this school year, the Pascack Valley High School junior:
• Has been named the North Jersey Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year and the Indoor Track Athlete of the Year.
• Won the Lou Molino Bergen Meet of Champions in cross country and followed that with a third in the Meet of Champions and seventh in the Nike Northeast Regional, which earned him a trip to the Nationals in Portland, Ore.
• Won the 1,000-meter indoor high school title at the New Balance Collegiate meet in the second fastest time in history.
• Captured the State Meet of Champions 1,600-meter indoor title in a meet-record time.
• Won the indoor National Championship 800 in 1:49.94, the second fastest time in American scholastic history.
For John, Ben's success – especially the 800-meter race, which was the fastest time ever run by a high school junior – is both impressive and humbling.
"I knew he was capable of running that fast," he says. "But being capable and actually doing it are two different things."
Ben recalls hearing his dad talk about his running career, but until he began running seriously during the winter track season of his freshman year, it was a bit abstract. "He told me a lot about his running days, that he ran 3:51 for 1,500 meters and 4:14 for the mile," Ben says. "It wasn't until I realized what those times really meant that I was really impressed."
Because his dad knows what it's like to compete at a high level, he can help Ben with the physical and mental aspects of running. "I trust my dad," Ben says. "He understands what I'm going through. He reminds me to work hard, but to also enjoy it."
It's a relationship that has developed over the past few years as Ben made the transition to distance running, adding on as many as 40 miles a week.
"When he was a freshman, he would call or text, 'What should I do today?'" John says. "As a sophomore, he'd call or text and say, 'Let's talk about this or that.' This year, he tells me what he did today. It's a natural progression."
One that John is eager to encourage. "Ninety-nine percent of it is just being there for him," John says. "But it's also important that he stays the same kid. In between seasons, we let him do normal stuff, just let him be a kid."
Ben admits he loves to run, especially in races. "It's a chance to make a statement," he says. "In football, your individual effort may not be enough to affect the outcome of the game. But in track, it's just you. And you see the benefits of your training a lot clearer."
Every now and then, John and Ben will go for a run together, "when Ben needs a nice, easy, slow run," John says.
On one of those runs, a neighbor stopped and watched the pair.
"He told me later," John says. "I just had to watch. The way you two ran...you run like each other. It was like watching mirror images."
A bond that can't be broken.
USA Track & Field, the national governing body for track and field, long-distance running and race walking in the U.S., offers a variety of competitive and fitness opportunities. Competitions takes place in six two-year age divisions, from 8 & under through 17-18.
USATF's largest youth program is the Junior Olympics, where nearly 70,000 young athletes compete each year in the Track & Field and Cross Country Championships.
The NJ Striders Track Club holds youth competitions: njstriders.com, (610) 258-6476