Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, you probably haven’t thought about Cal track and field in a few weeks — and no one is going to blame you for that.
In fact, your last track and field related memories may trace back to a week in March that was expected to culminate in the NCAA Indoor Championships.
You may associate this very same week with feelings of anticipation and rumors that school would be moved online permanently, and if you have a really sharp memory, you could also think back to one of the scarier things to happen on Friday, March 13 of that same week — when Chancellor Carol Christ sent an email declaring classes would be online for the rest of the semester.
For Cal juniors McKay Johnson and Joshua Johnson, that seemingly random week in mid-March went a little differently than it did for most.
It was filled with the same anxieties regarding the cancellation of in-person classes, but with also some other more unique disappointments.
The indoor championships were scheduled to take place on March 13 and 14. Both throwers had qualified in the shot put event, and McKay Johnson was ranked third in the nation for weeks leading up to the invite.
“We were at the meet, we flew to New Mexico, and the first day they moved it to only parents and essential staff who could be in the stadium. Then it started getting to the point where we were like ‘Oh, is this really going to happen?’” McKay said.
Joshua Johnson had recently thrown a career-best mark at the Mount Pacific Sports Federation Invitational and climbed three spots to qualify for the Indoor Championships, coming in at No. 13.
“I had just finished my pre-meet so I was feeling good, and then all the news hits that they’re shutting down everything,” Joshua said.
In the days following the cancellation of the invitational, the bright future of sports for the time being began looking dimmer.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered a shelter-in-place, and the two Cal throwers who expected that weekend to be a highlight of their college careers were sent home.
“For me, since I was chasing a mark the whole year and finally hit it at MPSF, it was a newfound excitement that I was actually going to compete. I was anticipating competing and doing the best I could. It definitely did sting,” Joshua Johnson said.
The throwers left New Mexico without even getting the chance to compete. All the excitement and energy they put toward the meet hit a dead end.
“It was pretty surreal, kind of overwhelming, I feel like I didn’t really have emotion or understand it completely until probably, like, a week after because everything happened so fast,” McKay Johnson said.
The current state of affairs for track and field, specifically throwers who require specialized equipment to train, looks bleak.
Gyms all over the country are closed and home gym equipment is mostly sold out.
Despite the limited access to their sport, McKay and Joshua are both making the best of it and improvising.
“I’ve been making ends meet with that stuff. In terms of throwing, for me a couple of the high schools don’t have gates so I’ve still been going in, social distancing of course. If they shut that stuff down then I guess I’ll just throw off some concrete,” McKay said.
The high schools in Joshua Johnson’s area are all closed, so he doesn’t have access to a field as McKay does.
“I’ve been working a little bit more on flexibility and conditioning since I’m not able to lift super heavy weights, it’s just more reps,” Joshua said.
While no one can predict the future of track and field, and certainly not the future of the COVID-19 pandemic, both Johnsons remain optimistic that future seasons have more in store for them.
“Ultimately you train to be the best you can be. If you’re doing it for recognition, your heart is just not in it. You do it to better yourself. Although we didn’t get to compete, I was happy with the way I competed up until NCAA and how I’ve progressed so far, so I wouldn’t change anything,” Joshua Johnson said.
The throwers know that at the end of the day, what matters most isn’t competing at big-name events with stadiums packed full with fans. It’s their passion and dedication to their sport, and the organic desire they have to keep improving.
Mia Horne covers track and field. Contact her at [email protected].