Teams for the 4x100 boys relay race line up in their respective lanes at Veteran’s Memorial Stadium on May 15.
It’s the first track-and-field meet at Harrison High School since the facility underwent an overhaul last summer and added new turf and a black track.
Runners perform their routines prior to placing their spikes in the blocks to start the race. The starter raises his gun in the air and says, “Set” in a monotone voice.
On cue, lanes one through eight all perked up in their blocks before the starter fired the gun and competitors took off.
“I missed that part so much,” a spectator said as his friend shielded his ears from the pop of the starter’s pistol.
Athletes competing in Season D sports bore the brunt of the pandemic in 2020 as the coronavirus wiped the sports slate last March.
They sat at home expecting a brief hiatus from their sports during COVID-19 mitigation. Save one soccer game for some schools, that pause became a complete cancellation that stole a year from everyone.
“It was difficult because we started that season the first week, and then got shut down because of COVID,” said Sierra throwing coach Ryan Valdez. “A lot of these kids worked over that year we had off so (improving) depends on them and what they do in the offseason and what they do when coaches aren’t around.”
For runners, that’s a less arduous task; all they require is a trail and running shoes. For field athletes, though, training becomes its own challenge, especially without proper equipment and last year’s pandemic guidelines.
Valdez said athletes navigated accordingly and followed rules while training for this season. The school allowed throwers to take home shot puts and discuses to practice to remain sharp in case the season resumed.
“A lot of them texted me (last year) asking was there anything they could do for this year,” Valdez said. “I told them get this done, get this done, so on, so forth, and we’ll see you next year. They kept in contact with me and I see their progress this year.”
While others entered 2021 with a foundation for throwing, Sierra’s Josh Pacheco is competing in track and field for the first time.
Previously, the junior only focused on football. Meaning, prior to Season C football, Pacheco hadn’t competed since Nov. 8, 2019.
The lull didn’t slow Pacheco in his first three meets, though. Pacheco earned two top-eight finishes as of May 22. In his first meet, Pacheco threw his shot put 38 feet, 2 inches.
“Coach Valdez said I’d be a good fit with throwing,” Pacheco said. “He said he thinks I’m pretty strong from working out and he got me into [throwing].”
Sierra’s Laina Richard, another field competitor for the Stallions, also has experienced success this season.
Richard finished first in the triple jump at the CSU Pueblo Early Bird meet May 8 and first in the 400 meter dash at the Fountain-Fort Carson Invite on May 21.
Along with her first-place finishes, Richard record three top-five placements in events and another in the top 10 as of May 22.
Richard said that missing last year was devastating to her progress and delayed several accomplishments she hoped to achieve.
She said she is determined to earn those accomplishments this season and ensured the pandemic didn’t stifle her progress.
“I worked with my dad because he’s really good at track,” Richard said. “I got a membership at the YMCA and we ran and worked out.”
They trained in triple jump to keep Richard fresh for this season, which the junior said has panned out thus far.
“My right leg is my start leg so I’d cycle my right leg and I’d have my left over my right and I’d try to cycle over that,” Richard said. “I would do bounding starts for my second phase. For my last jump, I’d work on pushing forward by jumping into some kind of sand pit at Memorial Park. I think it worked pretty well because it’s made my cycling really good.”
While competitors built continued to build their bodies, they also needed to maintain a formidable mental poise. Remaining sharp between the ears became a challenge as group sizes continually shrank and training alone became the norm.
Energy boosts that used to come from teammates or the cheering crowd needed to come from within. Harrison’s Kahar Briggs said that obstacle helped mold him.
“Being alone helped give me a goal to focus on,” Briggs said. “It helped me become more set on what I want to do for this season. I want to make it state, so I had to tough out my training in order to make that pay off at meets.”
Briggs, who is a three-sport athlete, competed in basketball, football and now track with minimal gaps between seasons.
Harrison’s basketball team narrowly missed the postseason in Season B and the football team made it to the semifinals before Gateway eliminated the Panthers on May 7 in Season C.
Despite the fluid schedule and frustrating season finales, Briggs said the pandemic has provided him with wisdom.
“It gave me more time to work on my overall self,” Briggs said. “It gave me more time to be around people who have the same goals as me. Now it’s easier for me to achieve tasks that I need to do.”