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.
The University of Minnesota stunned the nation when they dropped a time of 9:31 in the DMR at the Alex Wilson Invitational to qualify for the Indoor National Championships. One of the more underrated relays entering the national meet, the Gopher men had the potential to make some noise on the national stage. Unfortunately, their Cinderella story was cut short due to Coronavirus concerns. Two members of that relay, Owen Hoeft (a junior) and Shane Streich (a redshirt senior) were able to give us their thoughts on the national meet and spring season cancellations.
Many thanks to Shane and Owen for their openness!
I had just stepped out of my post-run shower when the news broke within the University of Minnesota’s team that we would no longer be competing at the NCAA DI Indoor Championships. “Wow. Just wow. There is no way that this is happening.” These words continuously repeated through my head as emotions and feelings flooded my soul. Minutes later, it was announced that the Big Ten had cancelled all spring sports seasons. This was the ultimate blow. Shock, anger, frustration, and sadness all hit me at once, leaving me feeling confused and numb. Throughout my life I had mastered the art of adapting during competition weekends and preparing for anything – I was not prepared for this.
The previous thirty-six hours had been trending in this direction with the NCAA limiting spectators to the event to just immediate family and then furthering that limitation to all spectators, but myself and my team held out hope. Not hoping the meet would still be on – we expected it to – but the hope that we were going to do great things that weekend. That we were going to show people what Minnesota tough looks like. We were ranked the highest that we had been in a long time at 13th in the country. We had lots of momentum from Big Ten’s that we were carrying into the meet. The DMR that I was a part of was ready to put ourselves out there and leave every last drop of sweat of on the track. We believed in our abilities, in our goals, and most of all, we believed in each other. This was our time.
With the Coronavirus pandemic, our time was no more. As a fifth-year senior, I had decided to redshirt both my indoor and outdoor seasons last year so that I could come back for more opportunities like these. Now my opportunities were no more. Within a matter of 2 hours, like many others, I had gone from a competitor at the national meet to a collegiate sports alum. My heart hurts every time I consider that I will never again wear the “U” across my chest. Feeling that I didn’t get to end my career on my own terms pains me. Knowing that I couldn’t keep the momentum that I had built in my final indoor season rolling into my final outdoor season pains me. So many goals left to accomplish, PRs to achieve, memories to be made on the track this outdoor season.
All of it, just gone.
It’s not all about me, though. My heart also hurts for those that had finally qualified for their first NCAA Championship meet ever yet don’t get to truly experience it. I had the opportunity to compete in 2017 at NCAA Indoors, but my three good friends and teammates who were on this year’s DMR had never had the experience before; they were robbed of this great opportunity and experience. Two of my best friends, like me, ran the final races of their career without knowing it; that hurts. My training partner and I will no longer be able to grind out workouts and race together for the U again, and I know it is as devastating to him as it is to me. Parents, brothers, sisters, missing the final race or throw or jump of a competitor’s career, thinking they would have another opportunity. Coaches unable to witness the culmination of their training and hard work of their athletes coming to fruition this outdoor season. Seeing all of that happen hurts like a dagger to the heart.
Some people say that it’s just sports. I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of the global pandemic that we are facing with the Coronavirus. It’s real and it can affect anyone and everyone long-term, but sports are more than just ab out throwing a ball around, running around a track, or swimming in a pool. For many athletes, it has become the engine that drives their lives, the molding hands that have shaped them into who they are today. The global pandemic that we are facing has taken away the closure that athlete’s need. No one races a mile just to stop after 1200 meters. No one starts a game only to walk off the field before the comeback drive or final at-bat. We compete to finish the job, to push ourselves as far as we possibly can go. Whether you’re a senior who no longer will compete collegiately or an underclassman who won’t be able to achieve their goals this outdoor season, I know that we all share the same pain.
In the end, though, we must remember that there is more to sports. Our work ethic, desire to pursue our passions, and ability to work with others is easily transferrable to our lives. Though we are in a unique situation, it is no different than an injury in the middle of a season. We must adapt, we must rely on each other, and we must keep moving forward, one step at a time. We are competitors, after all, and we will overcome any challenge set before us.
I had just qualified for my first NCAA Championships (in the DMR), had one of the better seasons of my life, and was growing in excitement for the outdoor season. It was all ripped away the day before the 2020 NCAA Indoor Championships.
Leading into the week of NCAA Indoors my teammates and I were obviously aware of the growing threat that the Coronavirus posed. It all seemed distant from our world of sports until we were sitting in our hotel room two nights prior to the race. We were watching an NBA game in which a team doctor sprinted onto the court towards the officials. The game was cancelled soon after, and nearly an hour later the entire NBA season was suspended. Starting then, seemingly every time one of us checked Twitter, another cancellation occurred. Soon, no fans were to be allowed at our meet besides family. No problem, we thought, we run hard in practice for no one all of the time. This was an opportunity for us to rise to our own expectations, no one else's.
The day before the race we usually go to the track to do our pre meet routine. But our coaches insisted we stay away from the track and do our regular routine on a nearby bike path. This is when it really hit us that perhaps this meet was in jeopardy. One coach told us that he thought this meet wasn’t going to happen. There was clearly an uneasy vibe between our relay members while we ran through our usual pre race routine. No one wanted to bring up the elephant in the room, but it was on all of our minds. After the run, we went back to the hotel and for a while it seemed like everything would go as planned. We got no more news of the meet, things were seemingly calming down. As we got our minds back on racing, we received a short, simple, devastating text message:
“Meet is not happening. Travel arrangements home to come.”
This wasn’t incredibly surprising, but it hit me harder than I expected it to. I immediately thought about one of my relay teammates who was a fifth year senior. He came back for a fifth year to try to get back to this meet that we were about to compete at. Our other relay members lost our first chance to prove ourselves at the next level. After hearing news of the meet being cancelled, I still knew I had chances to prove myself during the outdoor season.
While we were packing our bags to leave Albuquerque, we saw a tweet that the Big Ten and the University of Minnesota was cancelling all spring sports. Competitions, practice, and any other team related activities were no longer. This is the news that hit me harder than anything. And not so much for me. Every senior just lost their last season. Everyone who was injured during indoor season and was hoping for opportunities in outdoors lost their chance. Every 400 hurdler who struggled through indoors running 600 after 600 lost a chance to show their fitness in their event. Every steeplechaser won’t get to compete in their specialty. I am not here to knock the decision of either the Big Ten, NCAA, or University of Minnesota. This is a serious public health issue that is bigger than our little running bubble. But it really does suck.
I consider myself an optimist, so after an hour or so of ruminating in my sorrows, I tried to see if I could find the bright side of this situation. Running is a fairly compatible sport with a situation like this. You don’t need to go anywhere for it. You can run alone. You can push yourself without the bells and whistles that typically surround a collegiate track meet. During this spring and summer, runners should reconnect with their love of running, and revisit the ‘why’ to their running life. Fitness gains can still be made for all of us, if desired. Over the last couple days I have heard a lot of people say, “what's the point?” But when things were going as normal, everyone was emphasizing how we get better by stacking days, on weeks, on months, on years. To just stop running would put a halt to our long term development.
So being who I am, I am going to hold on to this belief like no other. What else is there to hold on to right now? While there might not be a sexy TFRRS mark to prove anything to the outsiders, you know when you are fit. It may be less tangible now, but fitness isn’t bound to a 3:42 1500 or a 13:45 5k. Hopefully, after this situation ends, we will all realize why we do this sport.
Hopefully we will seek less validation from outsiders based on outcomes. This situation, at risk of sounding ignorant to the pandemic at hand, will help us become more process oriented and in tune with ourselves. We will run, we will get fit, but we won’t have anything to show for it.
And maybe that’s a good thing in the long run?