2 minutes. 2 minutes is all it took. That's all it took for our worlds to come crashing down.
I wasn't always good at track. I mean I did have a few notable accomplishments under my belt; I was Fresh/Soph City Champion in the 200n my freshman year and runner up my sophomore year. I was also the only freshman in the 200m finals at sectionals. But while I had these few huge successes, I was overall average. Being on top, as an individual and as a team, was foreign to me.
So when I finally got a taste of what that was like, I was happy beyond belief. Everything was starting to pay off. The crazy thing is, I knew that this was only the beginning.
Most of high-school I was a short sprinter. The sheer idea of running the 400m was disgusting to me. The younger, naive me couldn't understand why anyone would want to sprint a race that was so long. When junior year came around, a handful of coaches that I trusted dearly suggested I stop running the 100 and move to the 400 as one of my main events. While it took me until my senior year to truly do it, I did it. The majority of the season I was running 63's and 64's until finally at CPS City Trials, I had a breakthrough. I finally broke 60. But the success only lasted for so long. For the remainder of the season and the beginning of the summer season, I was running 62's and 63's.
As we started moving into Regionals, my coach told me he needed a 58 out of me. I thought he was crazy considering I had only broken 60 twice by that point. But you better believe at regionals, I split a 58. Not too long after he asked for a 57 at nationals. That's when I really thought he was insane. But you better believe, I did it. My relay team became All-Americans and I went into my freshman year of college with high hopes of domination. I was ready to get all the big goals I set for myself. As one of my former summer coaches said "[I] finally found something [I was] good at".
The goals I had for myself were great but I was still building my confidence and I was not patient with myself. My indoor season ended with a 59.69. One of my teammates and I talked and we promised we wouldn't let outdoor be the same. We weren't satisfied and had the drive to do better. We knew we could do better, and we did. I ran a 57.60 and finished 42nd in the country. Things were looking up from here.
Summer season passed and I didn't run as fast as I hoped but I learned a lot about myself and what I could do. The mental burdens I put on myself all seemed to fade away and I could feel myself getting ready to fire up my upcoming sophomore season.
You better believe I did just that. But not just me, my whole team.
I ran a 41.70 in my 300m season opener. Coach told me I was on pace for 55-seconds and I could feel it coming. My first open 400m was a 58.55 which was a second PR from last indoor season. I ran 58.74 again a few weeks later. Then came Boston. Little did I know that was going to be the best meet of my track career.
I somehow managed to run three 56's in two days. I broke two school records and worked my way up from number 15 in the country to number 1. Everything was paying off. The practices, the crying, the anguish, the anger, the nervousness, the pain, the happiness, all of it. I was on top and I was there with the best team in the world. The rest of the season began to play out and everyone knew that winning a national title was getting more real by the second. Every moment we went to practice, we knew that what we were working towards was going to be bigger than any one person on the team.
Several weeks before NCAA's, USATFCCCA ranked us the number one women's team in the country, first in our program's history. We were going to do this. We all had faith we were going to do this.
We get to North Carolina and that's when things start to go south. As every hour went by, the feeling of being there got worse and worse.
Day 1, 3/11: MIT and Wis. La Crosse dropped out of the championships. La Crosse was ranked the number one team going into the championship.
We got emails at dinner explaining how the school was going to handle the Covid-19 outbreak. A longer spring break and online classes didn't sit well with everyone.
Only family members were allowed at the meet.
The Banquet and coaches meeting was canceled.
Day 2, 3/12: Wis. La Crosse was now back in the meet. Our parents and family were starting to arrive. Our Athletic Director made it to North Carolina.
We arrive at practice and I see two athletes from Rochester, a team we compete against regularly. One of the seniors informed me this was her last meet because Rochester canceled her outdoor season and said all students must move out for the semester when they come back from spring break.
My block starts felt terrible but I felt confident I'd perform well anyway. We came back from practice and there was a team in the parking lot crying. Their season was probably canceled.
We had a team meeting at 4:15. Coach told us that even through all of this we had a job to do which is to compete and bring home that title. We needed to accept the circumstances but not let it distract or control us. The atmosphere in the room started to relax and we were getting pumped for competition. We continued talking about this weekend's plans. Coach left the room.
2 minutes. 2 minutes is all it took. That's how long it took for our worlds to come crashing down.
"Ladies the NCAA has canceled the championship."
That one sentence tore everyone in that room open. It didn't feel real. It was honestly like something I had seen in a movie. How could we go from preparing for the biggest moment in our lives to hearing it was all for nothing in a matter of minutes. I wish I could describe how the atmosphere changed but you had to have been there.
We train for this moment. Every practice and meet leads up to this. This is why we work tirelessly and sacrifice so much. This is why we put ourselves through so much. To prove that we can and to prove that we will. It felt like a sick joke.
But I still had hope for outdoor. School after school after school was getting their seasons canceled and my heart ached for them but all I could think was thank God it's not us. We still have a chance.
We cried and encouraged each other but there was no telling what was going to happen next.
We went to dinner and I managed to forget everything that was going on. Coach scrambled to make travel arrangements. She was on the phone for at least 3 hours. We get back to the hotel and have one last team meeting. We get our bib numbers, and other special gifts the NCAA gave to us.
The morning of the next day was bittersweet. We were glad we got to go through this roller coaster together but hurt because we knew we were going to do everything in our power to win. We also knew this could be our last time seeing each other for a while. Refusing to come all the way to North Carolina for nothing, a few of my teammates found an outdoor track and raced with several other teams who wanted to end their seasons right.
Coach got me a flight home to Chicago instead of back to Ithaca so I flew home by myself. There were athletes from Wheaton, Augustana, and Geneseo on my flight. Sometimes we exchanged glances and we could feel the pain.
When I got off my flight, I checked Instagram and one of the first things I saw was that Ithaca canceled all competitions for Spring sports. The last bit of sanity I had in this situation was taken away. I walked through the airport bawling not understanding all the chaos. Why not postpone, wait and reassess, give it a few weeks, we were already there, don't take this away...
I cried for almost 30 minutes waiting for my suitcase. When I got on the train to go home, track nation on Twitter was more than alive. The NCAA granted all divisions an extra season of eligibility for Spring sports. A fifth year of college was waiting for me. That's also something I never thought I'd be doing.
This past week has been insane, to say the least. I was so close to proving that this sport was made for me. We were so close to proving that Ithaca was officially the best team in the nation.
The hole in our hearts has been replaced with a fire, one that will fuel us to repeat this next season. Although the NCAA took necessary precautions, I don't think they realize what they've started. I believe this next season of track is going to be one to remember. Not just for my team but every team across all divisions. One thing about track nation is that we love a good comeback. They just gave everyone a reason to do just that.
Our seasons might be over but our drives just got bigger. We'll see you soon and we do, y'all won't be ready.