Spring Track and Field at Ridgewood High School is the largest athletic team the school boasts. However, most elements of the sport are extremely individual. Oftentimes you push yourself individually to run faster times, throw farther distances, or vault and jump greater heights and lengths. Although the entire team gathers en masse every day at the Jacob Brown Track & Field Facility at Benjamin Franklin Middle School, everyone kind of does their own thing at practice to a certain extent, as the events in the sport are quite varied. But with the COVID-19 outbreak forcing school closures and suspensions of athletic practice and competitions, individual practice has only become more individual for the team.
In-person meetings at the track have been replaced with spreadsheets of daily mileage, instructional documents that outline specific workouts, and the occasional video call over Zoom to touch base. On May 4, when New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced the closure of all schools through the rest of the school year, The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) canceled the spring season, overruling their previous statement that the latest a season would run would be until June 30, if state restrictions had loosened up before then. New Balance Outdoor Nationals, the national high school competition for track and field, usually scheduled for mid-June, has been pushed back to July, but Ridgewood’s coaching staff is not planning to send any athletes to the competition, and head distance coach, Pat Ryan, says, “I’d be a bit surprised if [New Balance] even has a national championship, since [New York] and [New Jersey] have canceled their seasons; our states make up a massive portion of the entries.” Beyond just New Jersey, any chance of in-person competition for an outdoor season certainly is slim on the national level.
So, even without the expectation of a season replete with competitive meets, for some, the grind continues. Practice that is already somewhat individualized has become much more individualized. Athletes must workout alone or run alone, but the camaraderie surely is lacking. The definite scheduling of practice every day has gone, and the threat of dwindling motivation is no small hurdle. Despite these hardships, Sophomore Mick Barbi, a mid-distance athlete, comments on how he feels running alone is actually beneficial to his training: “I do miss my friends and teammates, but running alone has positively affected me physically and mentally. I have more control over [my pace] and I’m not actively comparing myself to [my teammates].” There do appear to be certain aspects of running alone on one’s own time that prove to be beneficial during time away from practice, but sophomore Phil Williams, a distance athlete, comments on how he feels running whenever he can is not as good as it sounds: “[It] was nice for [a while], but like a lot of things about quarantine, the novelty faded fast. I find it important to run alone and when I want occasionally, but overall the team structure and dynamic comes before that.”
As for dips in motivation, it may not be as much of an issue with underclassmen, who have seasons next year to look forward to, but are seniors, (many of whom will not be competing in college) running for nothing? Senior Meaghan Rossignol, a distance athlete, comments on her source of motivation in her last year at RHS: “In a few months when I’m in college I’m going to have to get used to working out and motivating myself, so I’ve kind of used this time to practice that. I’m working out and running now, not necessarily for a season and potential success, but just to stay in shape for myself.” Senior Ryan Seaver, a mid-distance athlete, describes how his motivation has dwindled, because “mentally, [runs] can be difficult. It can be a little boring to go out on an 80 minute run. It’s hard to run alone,” especially when running in groups provides that social environment and allows room for conversation.
Although for many seniors, a senior season on the track or out on the field was cut short, for underclassmen, work put in now will translate for seasons to come, and for seniors competing in college next year, individualized training will set them up for success at their new schools. Although the team is not assembled at the track every day executing intense workouts, out on the roads running double-digit miles, or catching early-morning buses for Saturday morning meets, the beauty of the sport lies in its individualism, which provides versatility. Even with no in-person competition and remote training, the sport of track and field goes on.
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Graphic: Luca Richman