The Stride Report will be running a series of articles consisting of interviews and op-eds from athletes across the nation. Our aim is to bring you a variety of perspectives from multiple collegiates in the running community who have been impacted by the recent competition cancellations.
Katie Rainsberger was having the best season of her life. The Washington veteran posted times of 8:56 in the 3000 meters and 4:12 in the 1500 meters this past winter. She also anchored her DMR to an NCAA #3 time of 10:56. A major star in the NCAA for the past few years, Rainsberger was ready to put her peak fitness on full display at the Indoor National Championships...until the meet was cancelled.
The Stride Report: You were in outstanding fitness this season, running new personal bests in both the 3000 meters and the 1500 meters. You also helped your DMR to an NCAA #3 time of 10:56. Tell us a little bit about your indoor season and the fitness you were/are in? What was different about this season than all of the others?
Katie Rainsberger: This past indoor season I definitely turned a corner and was in some of the best shape of my life. After a disappointing end to cross country, I decided that I couldn’t be afraid to fail anymore. In races this indoor season, when I got to that point where it started to hurt, instead of riding the line and playing it safe, I decided it was time to take some chances and put myself out there. I was gaining confidence from taking risks and attacking workouts which was then translating into my races. It was the first time since returning from injury that I was confident in my training, my ability to race, and my mental fortitude.
TSR: When did you start realizing that cancelling the Indoor National Championships was a realistic possibility?
Katie: We were at the track Thursday around noon doing our pre-meet 200’s when I started to get the feeling that something was off. I heard some choice words from coaches on the infield and some downcast faces and in my gut I was like this is not good. We continued, did some handoffs for the DMR, and then walked to lunch nearby. That whole time though I just knew something was off, but I didn’t know for sure.
TSR: How did you find out that the Indoor National Championships (and all of the outdoor season) had been cancelled? What was your reaction and your emotions at the time?
Katie: Our entire girls team was at lunch eating when Maurica Powell, our head coach, told us that the meet was cancelled. She got a phone call halfway through lunch and even though she took it a few feet away I could see it in her eyes before she told us that the meet was off.
At first I was angry, I asked Coach Powell to just put me on the track right now so I could go rip a 3k. I couldn’t comprehend why cancelling the meet was the best decision when everyone was already there. Especially when we had all traveled there and we had all been at the practice facility together. In my mind, the exposure had already happened and there were no spectators allowed so that risk was minimized as well.
We got on a flight out of Albuquerque immediately, like within an hour of finding out that the Championships were cancelled, we were at the airport. Our flight back to Seattle went through Denver and I just got off the plane and my parents took me home.
I was home in Colorado Springs when we were told the entire outdoor season had been cancelled and then later, the Olympics. In the end, I understand why things happened the way they did, but I am still left with the feeling of having unfinished business.
TSR: Could you describe the atmosphere in Albuquerque when it was announced that the national meet was cancelled?
Katie: It’s hard to describe the atmosphere since we were away at lunch, but there was another team at the same lunch spot, and the overall mood was just pure devastation. As athletes, we sacrifice so much to put in long, grueling hours and inevitably our sense of self is tied not only to our sport, but to our performances. So when something that you have been preparing for over months and even years gets ripped out from under you, you’re left grieving with feelings of loss.
TSR: The NCAA is expected to grant an additional season of eligibility for the spring season while recent reports suggest that additional indoor track eligibility is “unlikely”. What are your thoughts on that? How will this impact you and the seniors that you have spoken with, both on and off the Washington team?
Katie: I think this whole situation has made me realize how fortunate I really am and that so many others have been dealt a rougher hand. I have another season of indoor eligibility and I have not redshirted an outdoor season yet, so either way I will be back for indoor/outdoor next year.
I really empathize with those who have already redshirted or who have no more eligibility. I hope that a waiver will be given to seniors for the outdoor season and that if given the choice, people are able to return for a final go around the track.
However, I also realize that this is bigger than track and field eligibility and more than ever in times like these I am grateful for the health of my family and my ability to run.
TSR: What is the plan for the next few months?
Katie: Right now I am home with my family in Colorado Springs and I plan to hunker down here for the next few months. I have access to hundreds of miles of trails from home and I plan to run them all! I hope to use this time to work on some weaknesses - tempos...and build up a solid base.
But I think more importantly, I want to refocus on why I run in the first place. I think there is something to be said about enjoying the moment and being present during the journey and sometimes that gets lost in the collegiate system.
When I am not running, I will be working on my senior thesis and preparing for fall research (hint - it involves running performance at altitude).
TSR: Any final thoughts?
Katie: I think after the initial shock wore off I can't help but be left with a sense of purpose. This is so much bigger than just me and it is more than student-athletes and their eligibility. I totally understand the grief and the frustration, but at the same time there is so much more at stake. I hope we can use this time to reflect on what, and who, is truly important in our lives. Instead of getting frustrated with the current limitations, I’m using this time as an opportunity to practice gratitude and delayed gratification.