From competing to covering: Reflecting on the 2021 Colorado State Track Meet
This past weekend, I returned to the Jefferson County Stadium — not as a high school distance runner but rather a sports reporter. Upon walking onto the infield to get better access to the athletes, I found my mouth getting dry, palms getting sweaty and butterflies floating into my stomach. I was transported back to 2016, minutes before my own anxiety-inducing race at the state meet.
As a junior for Frontier Academy High School in Greeley, I got the opportunity to compete in the 3200 meter run at the state championship meet. I placed 11th in a time of 10:11, two places off the podium and only a second off my personal best at the time.
I remember having a mix of emotions after the race. On one hand, I was happy that I performed close to my best, but on the other I was upset to not make the coveted podium with my two senior teammates who I had trained with on a daily basis the last three years. What I failed to realize at that moment was that I would continue to look back on these feelings and emotions five years removed from this race.
The bang of the starter’s gun at the beginning of each 2021 state race tends to cause a Pavlovian response where my heart rate elevates and my adrenaline rises for a brief instant from years of track racing. Within the race itself, as I focus on getting good action photos, I internally imagine and recount what my high school coach might have been yelling at me to do in each stage of the race, lined against the fence like all of the other coaches surrounding me.
As the runners float across the finish line, I see faces reflecting success and disappointment. Emotions that I have felt on numerous occasions in my running career and after my own state race. There are faces with joyful tears streaming from their eyes from the fact they accomplished something they have dreamed about since they started the sport, and there are also melancholy faces as athletes try to navigate a disappointing result or for many their last high school race.
For those removed from the sport completely, I think it can be hard to truly feel what these athletes are going through in this exact moment. Everyone has had some form of success or disappointment, but I think it is hard to feel the true range of emotions of a track athlete unless you are one or were one at some point in your life.
For the majority of the athletes competing at the state level, they have been tirelessly training since they were freshmen in high school or even way back in middle school. They have spent the last few years dreaming of being able to compete at the state championship level and looking up to upperclassmen or alumni who have accomplished this feat.
These athletes spend all day in the classroom waiting for the final bell to ring so they can enjoy the best part of their day, which is to run with the team they love and train so they are one step closer to the dreams they have exhaustively dreamed about. Dreams about becoming a state champion, dreams about running at the collegiate level and dreams of someday becoming good enough to make an Olympic team.
However, the reality is there can only be one state champion. There is also a limited number of spots and scholarship money made available by collegiate athletic programs. And many just don’t have the right genetics to lend themselves to an Olympic team. I’m not saying it’s impossible to get the opportunity to run at the collegiate level or even make a career out of running, but I am saying that only a small percentage of individuals in the world are good enough. These hard truths about track and field result in the melancholy faces in front of me.
I felt it on that day back in 2016, and I felt it numerous times as I navigated my injury-laden career at Portland State University. For years, I tied my entire identity and motivation to a time or a place in a race, something many runners streaming across the finish line at state this past weekend do as well.
But as I look back, now removed as solely a reporter, I urge the athletes who competed at the Colorado State track meet not to obsess over fast times or what place you may have placed. Instead, indulge in the relationships with your teammates and with your coaches.
Every interview I conducted at the state meet touched on the memories that were being made with the team regardless of any specific result. The fact that I had to look up how I did back in 2016 also shows that your performance at some odd meet at the end of the high school sports calendar has no real lasting value.
Instead, the lifelong friendships and memories you make at that meet or at that team dinner throughout your short stint as a high school track athlete do. I promise those memories will shine way brighter and last way longer than a state champion plaque, an 11th place ribbon, a college scholarship — or even an Olympic medal.
Cody Jones is an intern for the Post Independent.
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