Athlete’s Voice: Track & Field Star Reflects on a Pandemic Season

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Courtesy of Andrea Marquez-Aguilar

Despite an athlete shortage, Lewis’ winter track & field team persevered during their pandemic season.

Andrea Marquez-Aguilar, Guest Writer

Going into my last winter season of Track and Field, I could never imagine the harsh reality we would face due to Covid-19. The team faced enormous obstacles during meets and practices, we enjoyed some successes. 

Covid-19 has largely had a negative impact on the track and field team at John R. Lewis High School. The winter track season had been cut short by almost a month with a later start date; the season usually starts in November but this year started in December due to FCPS changes in sports. This made it hard for our team to get sufficient practice before performing in meets.  

Many of our star athletes decided not to return to the 2020-2021 winter season due to fear of exposure and safety precautions, leaving a team of nearly 18 athletes most of which are newcomers. But the returning athletes have been able to reach their consistent marks during practices and meets after not running, jumping, or throwing for about eight months. 

Much of the 2019-2020 track and field team was made up of a majority of current seniors, but many of these athletes decided not to return. Some athletes have voiced an interest in coming back to play a spring sport as temperatures get warmer and the Coronavirus is better controlled. 

Senior Justin Heo, who has been on the varsity track and field team for all four years as a sprinter, voiced his concerns about competing during the pandemic. “Some concerns I have are obviously me getting sick and potentially not being able to compete or spreading the sickness to my fellow teammates and coaches. That will impact my performance,” Heo said earlier in the season. 

 To ease fears of contracting the virus, there have been many changes that have been enforced to protect everyone on the team and athletes who use the same equipment. Everything that is used, like the weights in the weight room or the medicine balls, is sprayed down with chemicals and left for 15 minutes. Everyone was required to have masks on at all times, and earlier in the season, athletes needed temperature checks before walking onto the field. Six feet distance was enforced when doing warm up stretches as well. 

Junior shot putter Nour Kaseem also had concerns about competing during the pandemic. “[Coronavirus precautions] make me be more aware of what I touch because I do not want to infect my teammates,” Kaseem said.

Despite the precautions, Heo acknowledged that he was still concerned. “There are many precautions that are put in place for the athletes and coaches. Many of these precautions have limitations to the extent of how we can get better through practice and how we can compete in meets,” Heo said. 

At some meets, spectators were forbidden and attendance was limited to only the athletes and coaches participating. This took away a lot of the emotional support of having family and friends at the meet, and it reduced the intensity of these competitions. 

Earlier this season, Kaseem reflected on the challenges for the team and her hopes for the season. “We have come a long way to do our best, and that is what we are aiming to do throughout this season. Even though our time has been cut short, I still hope to reach my goals that I have set for myself and get stronger for the spring season,” Kaseem said.

Despite the precautions, there was a lot of uncertainty of what was yet to come. It was unclear what would happen at District, Regional, and State Championships. It was hard to schedule these events because they needed to be held indoors, and the weather was never in our favor. 

But all championships were able to take place, and most track and field athletes advanced to regionals due to this year’s small region size. 

Overcoming many barriers, Justin Heo beat his personal records in hurdles, triple jump, and long jump, holding first place in all of his events. I threw a personal best score of 34 feet and 6 inches with the shot, holding first place at four meets we have had. Heo and I were able to place at the States Championships, something that we dreamed of doing.

This made all of the hardships of practice worth it all at the end. This has been an exceptional year to see the growth of Lewis’ team and hopefully see this team bring their accomplishments into the spring season.