The Story Of Woodside’s Mysterious “Trackman”

Jeffrey+OConnor+has+been+walking+the+track+for+over+two+decades%2C+meeting+new+students+along+the+way.

Thelma Mooney

Jeffrey O’Connor has been walking the track for over two decades, meeting new students along the way.

By Cebelli Pfeifer, Woodside High School - CA

If you happen to be a Woodside student, teacher, athlete, or anyone who has ever spent time on Woodside’s Bradley Field, then you have most likely seen Thomas Jeffrey O’Connor: more commonly known as the old man who walks around the track at Woodside High School.

Curiosity strikes the entire Wildcat community when it comes to O’Connor because of his dedication, perseverance, and refusal to let old age keep him from staying in shape and getting his laps in, but nobody knows who he really is.

The Paw Print caught up with O’Connor, and he set the record straight about various questions that had yet to be answered by the “trackman” himself.

“My name is Thomas Jeffrey O’Connor. I have been running since about the 70s over at Woodside High School,” O’Connor said. “I run six and seven miles a day, six days a week.”

His determination and persistence come from within. O’Connor said he has been running since he was a child in Ireland.

 “Back home in Ireland you ate nothing but fatty foods. When I was growing up, everything was full of fat: bacon, sausages, eggs, and fries,” O’Connor said. “I’ve been active all my life, ever since I was a child. From the time I was nine, I was running around getting messages for people going to the store and going to get this and that, making penny to penny.”

O’Connor is known for refusing to let the weather slow him down.

“When I [started] running, it was all dirt and mud; in the winter, you’d be running over pools of water; that’s just the way it was,” O’Connor stated. “[The heat] doesn’t bother me, I run in all kinds of heat, all kinds of weather and rain, I know my limits. I’m out there six days a week.”

 O’Connor shared that seeing student-athletes compete and try their hardest in their sports and that their good sportsmanship heavily inspires him.

“I take pride in watching [the athletes compete] and making sure that they do well,” O’Connor said. “I’ve had many people [and] many kids come over and tell me that I was an inspiration to them because of the amount of work I’ve done up there running.”

His love for Woodside is indubitable, and he feels just as inspired by Woodside’s community as the community is of him.

“I love that school [it’s] the greatest school you can ever go to. [The students] have everything in the world to learn. If you can’t learn at Woodside with those teachers, and those facilities, you’re never going to learn,” O’Connor stated.

Jeffrey O’Connor holds an article written about him that was published in the 80s. (Cebelli Pfeifer)

One thing nobody knows for sure is O’Connor’s age. When teachers and coaches were asked whether they have ever noticed O’Connor, they answered yes, but when asked how old they thought O’Connor is, nobody had an exact answer.

“I like to have people guess how old I am because if I tell them my age, they say, “that son of a gun shouldn’t even be out there [on the track],” O’Connor stated.  

When asked about any memorable moments or interactions he’s had with fellow Wildcats, one thing immediately came to O’Connor’s mind. 

“There was a young man getting interviewed on the stands one Saturday [when] I was jogging around the track. Three weeks later this lady comes up to me and says, ‘You’re on television!’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ and she said [the student] they were interviewing, [was] Julian Edelman. That was a pretty memorable moment for me,” O’Connor said.

 Julian Edelman grew to fame after getting drafted into the NFL post-attendance at Woodside High school. Meeting Edelman was a surreal experience for O’Connor. 

O’Connor is currently out with an injury and is expected to be back walking laps within a few months.

“One week [my heel] started to hurt but I kept [walking the track]… until one Saturday and I got a bone fracture. The doctors say it will not go down for two to three months. I’ve got the patience, and I’ll be back up there [soon],” O’Connor said.

The Cross Country and track coach Al Hernandez sees and interacts with O’Connor more than most, given cross country trains on the track and is out practicing regardless of the weather.

“One thing he won’t do is admit his age. He says, ‘I’m not gonna tell you,’” Hernandez said. “I don’t know what his story is; I’m assuming he had some kind of medical reason he had to [walk around the track].”

Many teachers and coaches have made observations and taken note of O’Connor over the years.

“Shine, snow, hot, cold that man is there,” Woodside Staff Member and Head Badminton Coach Nancy Staves said. “He is a mystery to me, he’s been walking around here for over 20 years and all I know is he had a granddaughter graduate from here.”

Staves is not the only one to take note of his presence over the years. Due to the mystery surrounding O’Connor, over the years unconfirmed information about him has been spoken of and teachers have expressed their curiosity towards the subject.

One teacher heard that he is out there to stay healthy for a personal reason.

“He said once that he’s meant to be alive for his granddaughter’s graduation from this school,” Dance P.E. teacher Leslie Pedrin said. “I talked to the cross country coach and he said he’s known the man since the 70s!”

Although O’Connor never attended Woodside as a student, he has secured his spot as a Wildcat through inspiring many with his dedication, perseverance, and kind soul. Woodside holds a special place in his heart, and he doesn’t plan on abandoning Bradley Fields track just yet.

“I love the teachers, I love the coaches and I love the kids up there. If I wasn’t going up there on a regular basis. I think my life would have gone a little downward. Woodside High School has kept me going and given me an inspiration every day to go and work,” O’Connor concluded.

This story was originally published on The Paw Print on November 3, 2021.