Updated: Dec 7, 2020
I remember the day it all ended. Or rather, the days. I remember, first, a drizzly January long run and the voices of an NPR’s Up First talking about an epidemic in Wuhan, China. It sounded bad. And a long way from here.
I remember that distance shrinking daily. It’s strange how, geographically-speaking, the danger should have been apparent. Stranger still, I remember the conversations, and I remember feeling lucky. But I don’t remember feeling dread.
As I rounded the curves of our track, dust rose in the wake of each footfall. Perhaps it clouded my judgement, insulated me from anxiety beyond concern for countries across the sea.
“Did you hear about the bat? Crazy, right?” Between breaths, idle cool-down speculation belied the domestic conspiracies and home-grown absurdity emerging along the horizon. Future claims about a very powerful light would have borne the fuel capacity for a few miles of sarcastic jest. And we might have had a field day with the endorsement of bleach, were we not quarantined and our field locked down.
“People in Italy can’t go outside!” Like a movie, I thought, because we still ran our streets. We brought and broke the news, intermittent awkward silence chased back by pounding feet and incredulous concern.
“If they’re all in their houses, how do they go shopping?” The grass and mud ringing the interior of the track squelched in time, a sound comforting in its mundanity and expressive in the curiosity of its cadence. I found the logistics of a pandemic hazy. Essential worker was a foreign term.
It didn’t hit me until March. And even then, not when Coach Martinez, over the loudspeaker, announced the cancellation of an upcoming weekend of track and field invitationals. Not when high-fives went out of fashion. Not when school let out for an “extended spring break.”
But after those three weeks? Then, I had to have known. And only partly because kitchens became classrooms. Only partly because normalcy fled, truant as any opportunist.
With normalcy went the ritual of sports.
Sports–or really, the lack of them–received no shortage of attention following the onset of COVID-19. In the thick of quarantine, with virtually the entirety of America shut down, it became easier to identify the mounting array of events that weren’t happening, rather than those that were.
First, the week-by-week cancellations of games and practices. Then, the unprecedented shut-down of whole seasons and stadiums. Fans mourned. The sports section, emaciated with the lack of content, wasted away to nothing. Sports channels ran several-year old content, and sports bars found themselves doubly defeated.
Of course there were, and still are, more pressing concerns than the sudden absence of athletic competitions. With our curve showing no signs of flattening, and Los Angeles County enduringly purple, illness, as it should be, remains the primary concern. By no means do I attempt to make light of the gravity of COVID-19 and the singular significance of the lethal risk it poses. By no means do I attempt to diminish the financial hardships the virus accentuates, or its disproportionate effects on black, brown, and low-income communities. These weigh heaviest on the scales of injustice, urgency, and consequence. Sports cannot compare.
Yet, in a smaller sense, the sports world found itself rocked to its very core. At every level of every sport, COVID hit athletes hard.
This is not a matter not of life nor livelihood, but it is a matter of love.
Like every other athlete, in high school sports or otherwise, I do miss our team. I miss our coach. I miss meets and racing. These things are well-known and a given.
But what I’ve found, with nearly eight months of miles with nothing to do but ponder, is that I miss our track, too.
Sports is inextricably bound to a place. This place, ours an alternatively dusty and sludgy oval, becomes, by the people on it (and repeats around it) a home.
Our track: The amalgamation of inside jokes printed on T-shirts, teary senior night speeches, and pre-race anticipation. The finicky lock on the equipment bin, the meticulous measuring of wickets, the games of chalk-tag while marking the lanes before meets. The Ultimate Frisbee matches on Funday Fridays and the two-mile time trials in the summer. The memory of pre-practice kernels of wisdom, utter post-Vo2 Max exhaustion, and anecdotal cool downs with Martinez.