For the first time in over a year, Bowdoin’s track and field teams put on their uniforms for a dual meet with Colby College last Sunday. Although the meet was smaller than usual, a few athletes achieved personal records, and almost all expressed gratitude to be competing again.
When President Clayton Rose and the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) announced their plan to conduct limited spring sports, the track and field coaches at Bowdoin, Colby and Bates came together to create a plan for competition that was feasible for their teams.
“Our goal was to create competition for our athletes, and we did it,” women’s track and field Head Coach Lara-Jane Que said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “We created a schedule that was safe and that was going to still be competitive, and we’re really pleased with the collaboration that we all had together as a coaching group in the state of Maine.”
The meet, hosted by Colby, was initially planned to be a competition among the three institutions, but Bates was unable to compete due to their campus-wide in-room lockdown as a result of a rise in COVID-19 cases.
“All of us weren’t expecting to have a meet, so I think the sentiment on the team was to be enthusiastic and compete for the joy of competing and [for the love of] track, rather than for high competition,” said Lydia Pitts ’22, a member of the women’s track and field team.
“It was the happiest I’ve been in so long,” Que said. “It’s been 400 days since we were last in uniform, so it just felt surreal.”
Despite the uncertainty surrounding competition, the men’s and women’s track and field teams continued to train throughout the fall of 2020 and into this spring. Their hard work and diligence paid off, with several athletes achieving a personal record at the event.
Kianne Benjamin ’24 started her collegiate career with a personal record in all three of her events—the long jump (in which she placed first), the 100-meter dash (in which she placed second) and the 200-meter dash.
Two other standout performances were from long jumpers Cheng Xing ’23 and Reid Brawer ’21, who placed first and second in the long jump event, respectively. Both achieved personal records, each jumping over seven meters.
“It was something I [had been] trying to do for the last five years,” Brawer said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “It was like a culmination of my track experience.”
“Everyone did a really great job,” said Que. “Even if it wasn’t their best ever, it was pretty close to it, and I think that’s the true translation of their character and their love for their sport and that they worked hard this past pandemic year.”
Pitts, who also placed first in both the 100 hurdles and triple jump, emphasized how the excitement of getting to compete again contributed to the team’s success.
“I feel like the energy during our last meet was off the charts just because everyone was so happy to compete and cheer for one another,” Pitts said.
Despite COVID-19-safety restrictions, there was still a sense of normalcy at the meet.
“Everyone [was] wearing a mask, but it still felt like a normal meet,” Brawer said. “It still felt exciting [and] like a normal competition, because in track, you’re able to distance naturally.”
For Pitts, it felt incredible to return to the track in a competitive way, but it also felt new after such a long hiatus from competition.
“There was a sense of new pre-race jitters and nerves that I haven’t experienced in a while because I [have] always consistently competed for a long time,” Pitts said. “And then, it was a great feeling to finish races and feel like I haven’t lost any time.”
Although hoping to extend their season to compete in the NESCAC championships and nationals, which are set to occur in late May, the Polar Bears are staying focused on their upcoming meets with Colby and Bates this coming weekend and the following weekend.
“Right now, we’re just really grateful that we have [these meets], and obviously nationals would be a fantastic thing to do, and our eyes are still set on it, but I think we just have to stay light on our feet and be able to pivot,” said Que. “We want to be able to keep increasing, keep jumping far, keep running faster as the weeks go on.”
This short, modified season has been particularly important for seniors, who lost opportunities to compete during their junior year.
“I am particularly grateful that [this senior class] can be in uniform one last time because we weren’t even quite sure if we were going to be in uniform,” said Que.
While this season marks the end of collegiate competition for seniors, it also heralds the beginning of collegiate athletic careers for others, like the sophomores, who did not have a season last year.
Cheng Xing ’23 is a member of The Bowdoin Orient.