It's 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning and you're on a bus to Ohio with a cinnamon bagel in one hand and a Jimmy John's sub in the other. In six hours that sub will be soggy but you'll eat it anyway because you're ravenous from competing. Another six hours later you'll be back on the bus, this time with pizza in your lap – or if you're lucky you'll be on your way to Golden Corral. You'll get back to campus, enjoy your one-day weekend, and spend the next week preparing until it's Saturday again and you're headed back to Ohio for another track meet.
If you're on the Carnegie Mellon track & field team, you know that this is how you spend every single week from January to May, like clockwork. Sometimes you think to yourself how insane you are for spending all of your free time doing this. But it's what happens between the cinnamon bagel and Golden Corral that keeps you coming back, pushing through blood, sweat and Jimmy John's, just to shave off that millisecond or snag that extra centimeter. Some Saturdays you'll have a bad meet and find yourself going through all five stages of grief in a few hours. Other Saturdays, your work pays off and everything else in the world falls away as you bask in some well-earned glory. Most days you’ll feel like your limbs and joints are imploding, one by one. But no matter what, you’re always left wanting more; you want it so bad that it keeps you up at night. At least, that's what being on the track team has done to me.
When I walked onto the team four years ago, I had no business being on a collegiate athletic team, but the track team found a place for me on the pole vault crew. I'll have you know that my marks from high school were nothing more than laughable (some people could high jump what I pole vaulted!), but for some reason the track family still took me on. That’s the first thing that I learned about being on this team – everyone is given a fair shot at success. With some passion, lots of grit and an awesome team training together with me, I can proudly say that, four years later, I’ve become the school record holder and the second ever CMU women’s field athlete to qualify for the NCAA Championships. Everyone always comments – “Who knew that one of the shortest girls on the team would find such success in a vertical jumping event?” That’s the second thing that I learned from being on this team – you don’t have to look the part to play the part, but you do have to put in the work.
I can only take half of the credit for my success. Without Coach Stark’s endless wisdom and personal dedication to his vaulters, people would still be high jumping higher than my vaults. Without Coach Aldrich roaring my name from across the entire track after I’ve cleared a new height, I wouldn’t have found the courage to feel like I belonged on a collegiate track team. Without my teammates lifting me out of the stress of school, or cheering for me through the longest pole-vault competition in UAA history, I would have lost my sanity a long time ago.
The best part of this program is that my story is not so unique. There have been and will be many more success stories that come out of this team. And even though track is labeled an individual sport, a teammate’s success truly feels like a success of your own, and your own success means that much more because you know it’s benefitting the entire team. Maybe my biggest take away through my experiences on the track team is that everything is dynamic and always changing – anything can happen to anyone at any time. So assume nothing and never settle, because there’s always work to be done and it only takes one time to make the difference. At a university where academics is everything, I found an eclectic family and much-needed haven in the track team.