Inside Athletics

Rebecca Fortner - Senior Reflection 2017

Rebecca Fortner - Senior Reflection 2017

They call my name, indicating that I’m up to take my last jump. I take a deep breath and look around, trying to take in the moment. It’s a high bar, something I’ve never cleared before, so this could be the last jump of my career. I look over to the stands where my teammates are sitting. They’re all yelling for me, Coach Aldrich’s voice overtaking all of them per usual. I look at my fellow senior high jumper and she gives me a nod and says, “Let’s go Becca.” I look down at my mark one last time and look at the bar. Let’s go Becca.

Let me go back four years ago to my first day of fall training here at Carnegie Mellon. The team is small, composed of only 35 women, the majority of which are distance runners. There are only two high jumpers and we’re both freshmen. The team is split between event groups, genders, and class, all friendly with each other, but the team aspect is not really there. We see each other every day at practice, we talk about school and sports, but then we leave the track and go to our separate houses and friends to not talk until the next practice. Fast forward to our first meet at West Virginia University. My fellow high jumper and I are so nervous, we warm up an hour too early and my legs are shaking so much, I can barely pop off the ground. This is when we started to learn to lean on each other. Being a freshman at CMU is hard. You’re away from your family, you’re surrounded by different cultures and people from all over the world, and the academics are like nothing you’ve ever experienced. Everyone needs someone to lean on and nothing beats the support of a team. The struggles we were facing brought the freshmen together from all event groups, and there were quite a few of us, 10 to be exact. Before we knew it, we had pulled through and made it to our sophomore year.

The first fall meeting of sophomore year, we looked around and noticed something - there was only one senior jumper and no juniors. We were about to become the new leaders after only one year. By this time we had our routines down. The seniors had taught us as freshmen how practice worked, how to warm up at meets, how to support each other during hard workouts, but no one can really teach you how to lead a team. We were stumbling, but trying our best. The freshmen class came in with new talents we hadn’t seen before. We could feel the team getting stronger, but we didn’t know it yet. Coach Aldrich took over as the head coach and came up with the most fitting team motto – together. Together, we were becoming stronger performers. Together, we were supporting each other. Together, we were becoming a team. I will always remember our first Schatz Mondays. We would get back from practicing at Pitt at 7:45 p.m. and try to make it to Schatz before 8 p.m. when it would close. There were enough of us to fit one table.

Junior year we were it. We were the captains now. My first year as captain was also the year I became known as “team mom” amongst the jumpers. Every meet included calling the teammates who had a hard time getting up in the morning at 6:30 a.m. to make sure they were awake to get to the bus on time, measuring the girls' and guys’ steps at high jump, making sure the jumpers were warming up on time, and focusing on being the best I could be. Every practice was leading warm ups, workouts, jumping sessions, just doing what it took to make sure everyone was there and prepared to do their best. The word this year was “passion” and it was being shown on the track and off. The freshmen this year filled in the holes we were missing. We started to realize what we had and how good we were getting. Not only was our team growing in numbers, so was Schatz Mondays. Girls and guys were attending now from every event group. We were filling the entire back room of Schatz, creating one long table comprised of as many tables we could fit. Schatz Mondays grew to Friday night dinners, movie nights, icing our shins together in the locker room, dying our hair at UAAs, seeing how many people we can fit into one ice bath, summer trips, and so much more team bonding. We were now a family on and off the track.

Now it’s senior year and the word is “grit”. Although to some it means “Good Runners is Tartans,” to others it means “Growth, Resilience, Integrity, and Tenacity.” Both meanings are what powered us through. I started to realize how much I meant to this team and how much they meant to me. I’ve been to six UAA conference meets, been a part of more teams than I can remember throughout the years, but I’ve still never been on a team like this one. This year was the first time in history the girls have beaten Case Western Reserve. As we huddle for our meeting on our last indoor jump practice, I can’t help but to tear up. I’ve been through so much with these men and women and the bond we have is nothing I’ve ever had before. They’ve supported me through bad meets, good meets, family deaths, failed tests, breakups, and so much more. Our practices are sometimes filled with a lot more laughter than running, but that’s just who we are. The jumpers may be goofy idiots sometimes, but they’re my goofy idiots. As we yell “Grit” one last time in the gym, I know it’s time to start passing down the leadership.

My final outdoor season comes with ups and downs. High jump is very much a mental sport. Every meet has its lasts, every meet is important. As a captain, I’m still leading, but I can see leadership in the underclassmen. I can feel that I’ve done my work here and it’s about time for me to move on. We’re scoring more points, getting more people in the finals, and winning more than we’ve ever done before as a team. When I joined this team, we were a group of individuals who excelled at a few events, now we’re a team who’s starting to feel what it’s like to win. We’re up to 40 girls now, only eight of which are seniors. We’ve lost some along the way, but those who remained have played a huge part in getting the team where they are now. When I turn the corner by Resnik and start the walk down to the track, I can’t help but to smile when I see everyone waiting at the pole vault pit for practice to start. I love this sport, but the reason so many of us have stuck around isn’t for the sport, it’s for the people on the team. The seniors have helped build this comradery, but it doesn’t stop with us. I know the underclassmen have what it takes to keep improving and bringing the team together and I wouldn’t want to leave this team to anyone else.

Let’s go back to my last meet. I take one more deep breath and start my approach. My legs feel strong, my approach is great, but I feel the bar skim my back. I hear it clang to the ground as I hit the mat. That’s it, my eighth and final UAAs is over. I slide off the mat as my teammates clap for me and Coach Aldrich gives me one of his big bear hugs. “I’m proud of you,” he says and the tears start falling. My two closest friends on the team who I’ve bonded with these last four years come over and we all hug, crying together. It’s bittersweet really, moving on. Coach hugs me one last time, this time saying, “What are we going to do without you next year?” I smile and say, “I don’t know Coach,” but what I’m really thinking is “What am I going to do without this team?”