Staff Sports: Michael Leaps Through Track and Field

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Last September, Forum Editor senior Carly Liao took her swing at tennis, and in December, Lifestyle Editor junior Becca Wu tackled wrestling (and it tackled back). For the spring season, I wanted to find a sport I could simply survive—a task which proved to be surprisingly difficult. As a non-athlete whose workouts consist mostly of lugging SEC equipment around campus, I decided to go with track and field, a discipline in which athletes could go at their own pace and where I’d be welcomed despite my shortcomings.

As that first day approached, I grew more and more excited at the prospect of practice. It’d been years since I was a part of one of the school’s sports teams, so I donned my Gunn P.E. shirt, grabbed some sunscreen and set off to the Hal Daner Track and Field after school.

I started off with the throws team, a group which competes in the shot put and discus events. In retrospect, choosing to throw on a day with 25 mph winds was a slight mistake. After one wind-buffeted lap, we began to practice throwing the shot put, and I was pulled aside by an assistant coach to learn proper form and safety procedures. Twelve-kilogram metal balls are about as heavy as you might expect them to be, so I appreciated the run-down.

After about an hour of practice, I had finally managed to get the shot put to a third of the distance that the actual team members could reach. But I only had a moment to celebrate my success before we were whisked off to the weightlifting room.

This first day was the squats day, so my friends on the team guided me through proper form and safety protocols once again. I managed to get a few good sets of squats and box jumps in, but it wasn’t until I finally got home from the first day of practice that I realized just how sore my leg muscles were. Walking up the stairs that evening was one of the most humbling experiences I’ve had in recent memory.

As practices continued through the week, I found myself working with the throws team on technique for shot put and eventually discus, too. There was something magnetic about throwing heavy objects as far as you could get them, and it was extremely gratifying to feel slightly stronger day after day. Although I wasn’t exactly breaking any records with my distances, I had a great time out on the field.

When it came to track, however, I had my apprehensions about the events. When looking through the different track and field competitions, there were a few that I thought might be beyond my reach in the one week I had. For groups such as the distance and sprints teams, which are reputed for doing copious amounts of running at each practice, I knew I faced a very real and very serious risk of vomiting on the track. Out of respect for our custodial staff and everybody who uses the track, I refrained from participating in those events.

What I was most interested in were the jumps. With mats and sand pits to cushion the falls I surely would have, I felt confident that I could avoid any unfortunate instances of my lunch coming into contact with the floor. I began with the high jump, an event reminiscent of my middle school P.E. days. Although the objective was to jump backwards over an elevated bar and onto the mat behind it, I ran into trouble clearing any height taller than a kindergartener. Out of all of the events, high jump might have been the one that I was worst at, but it was exhilarating each time to run up to the bar and never know for certain if you were going to hit it. In my case, I was in fact certain that I would hit the bar when I went, but the actual team members’ jumps were extremely impressive to watch in terms of both form and distance cleared.

The last event I tried out was the long jump, which required a speedy running start and a solid takeoff to maximize horizontal distance. Possessing neither the speediness nor the technical know-how for a proper jump and landing, I nevertheless had a blast sprinting at full force toward a sand pit and seeing how far into it I could end up. Although the sand-in-shoe problem was a bit of a hassle to deal with, the explosive nature of the long jump made it one of the most enjoyable events I tried.

Beyond the events themselves, though, I found that the most enjoyable part of my week with track and field was interacting with the members of the team community. As a no-cut sport, the team had a place for everybody willing to try their best at whichever event they wanted to compete in—even someone like me. Because of this, there were members from every background imaginable, with both veterans of their events and total newcomers working alongside each other to better themselves and their skills.

To my surprise, almost all of the team members were extremely supportive of my efforts, with many of them going out of their way to correct my form or give me tips to better my performance. As a non-athlete, I felt inspired by the top-performing athletes in the team, and even more inspired by my fellow newcomers who were giving their all and learning all the while.

Developing strength, balance and coordination made me feel more capable overall. By the end of the week I was exhausted but also motivated to continue practicing the stretches and exercises I’d learned beyond my stint for Staff Sports. So to anybody out there with apprehensions about trying a sport, at Gunn or otherwise, just remember this: If even I was able to make it work, anybody can.