Michael Lipkins proudly shows off the medals he has won as a track athlete at Rogers High School. Running has been his way of avoiding trouble.
Behind each medal Michael Lipkins has won, is the story of a race; a memory of victory.
There, too, is hope.
There is hope for another city league championship; hope for the chance to compete at the state’s high school track and field competition.
Hope for a scholarship to race at the collegiate level and to earn a degree in graphic design.
There’s hope for Toledo – the city where he has lived his entire life.
There was hope for an 18th birthday – which the Rogers High School senior celebrated Saturday.
There’s hope that’s bigger than himself – hope that his peers can someday stop going to funerals where young black men are mourned and memorialized on T-shirts.
He’s a kid – a young man – with a lot of hope, a lot of heart, and a love of running.
Mr. Lipkins never knew Deontae Allen, but he heard the gunshots that cut down the 19-year-old man as he ran from his assailants Oct. 17. Another man, Limmie Reynolds III, 20, was injured in the shooting at Waverly and Fernwood avenues.
Mr. Lipkins thought the pops were thunder – never thought another thing of it until about an hour later when he signed on to Twitter and saw messages like, “Rest in peace, Tae.”
The shooting was just outside their West Toledo home in a neighborhood that police said is borderline – one not plagued by nightly gunfire, but close enough to hubs of violence that residents might be more cautious.
Once Mr. Lipkins realized another man – another black Toledo teenager – was dead as a result of street violence, he posted to Twitter, “Toledo done got to the point where nobody is safe. That’s why I stay to myself at the crib.”
Minutes later he wrote, “I take this Track life Serious. My Legs are my Ticket out of Toledo.”
Running has been a part of Mr. Lipkins for about as long as he can remember. His mother signed him up for organized sports – football to start – when he was 6 years old.
It wasn’t until seventh grade at Robinson Junior High School that Mr. Lipkins started to run track – his mother, Yvette Lipkins, a former Scott High School track athlete, talked him into it, he said.
He briefly thought about quitting, but realized the sport kept him out of trouble and he continued to improve. Soon, he was in love.
He joined the Rogers track team as a freshman, though he was still playing football – a wide receiver and occasional running back (the fastest on the team, he said).
Rogers’ Michael Lipkins, No. 261, strives to lead the pack, knowing that winning enhances his chances of earning a college scholarship.
Despite his spot on the football team, Mr. Lipkins would head to cross country practice in the afternoons if he saw the team running sprints, often having to borrow coach Johnny Ichrist’s shoes.
“He loves being on the track,” Coach Ichrist said. “I think that’s his release from everything that goes on.”
Worried about injuries, Mr. Lipkins quit the football team in favor of joining cross country this year.
“I had to put two and two together. If I had hurt legs [from football] and I try to run track, it’s not going to match up. I’m going to feel the pain,” Mr. Lipkins said.
The cross country distance running was a different animal for the teen, who favors the 100 and 200-meter dashes in track. (Head track Coach Eric Browning says Mr. Lipkins’s best race is the 400-meter dash.)
“He was one of our best runners, even with limited training,” Coach Ichrist said. “ … He showed up, was ready to work, and took control of what was going on, and motivated others to do well.”
When track season starts, Mr. Lipkins will take on a new leadership role as captain, Coach Browning said.
“We’re going to have a pretty tough team,” Coach Browning said. “There’s going to be some talent around him that he’s expected to help develop.”
The sense of responsibility isn’t new for the teen.
He puts pressure on himself to be better than others might expect him to be, to push himself to stay out of trouble so his brother, Marcus, 11, has someone to look up to.
He knows that, as a young black man living in one of Toledo’s inner city neighborhoods, there are some who might not expect much from him.
“I know the stereotype that they have, and that helps me get better at what I do on the track,” Mr. Lipkins said, a stack of medals at his side. “I know people probably expect something different from me, so I give them a whole different side of me, so, basically, like, I prove them wrong. I give them the opposite of what they expect.”
He has a teammate, he said, who he pushes to stay out of trouble.
If he sees the boy doing something he shouldn’t, he says, “You should think before you try to react or do something because it could catch up to you in the long run.”
Simple values that, more frequently, people claim are lost on youth.
“Like my mom said, you could be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and with all the violence happening, a bullet doesn’t have a name,” Mr. Lipkins said. “You always have to be cautious about where you go and watch your surroundings. That’s what she always tells me.”
Though Toledo is far from being one of the most dangerous cities in the country, it’s hard to ignore the city’s 26 homicides. Of the 166 people who have been shot in Toledo this year, according to records maintained by The Blade, nearly three dozen of them have been 19 or younger.
Ms. Lipkins is quick to say she’s a nosy parent – her grandparents, who raised her, were that way. Her children have a curfew. She knows where they are going, who they are with, and what they are doing.
She has to be concerned, she said. And after the shooting outside their home, she can’t help but worry more.
Mr. Lipkins will sometimes go outside to sit in the car and talk on his cell phone. Knowing that Mr. Allen and Mr. Reynolds were sitting inside a car when they were approached by a group of men, at least one armed with a gun, Ms. Lipkins is all the more cautious.
Mr. Lipkins also knows he has his younger brother, his best friend, to worry about.
“I want him to look up to me as a role model,” Mr. Lipkins said. “If he sees me doing something bad, that’s not telling him nothing at all. … That’s another reason I want to do good. For him. And, like, to show people where I live, because I live in a bad part of the city, … [that] successful people do come out from where I live at.”
His college plans aren’t cemented yet. He’s talked to coaches, gone on one campus visit, and is working on filling out paper work for the NCAA.
He’s thinking big – competing in Rio for the 2016 games wouldn’t be so bad, though even making it to the Olympic trials would “be a big thing for me also.”
There’s nothing wrong, he said, with having a little hope.