‘Maybe in the future I’ll get to do that again’: With indoor track season canceled and practices on pause, one jumper reminisces about his time on the runway and in the pit
About a half hour before I called sophomore jumper Abayomi Awoyomi this week, he got an email that practices for the Washington University men’s track and field team had been put on hold yet again. The entirety of the indoor track season has already been canceled, and practices have been on and off because of COVID safety measures, so the email was not entirely unexpected, but it was yet another setback in what has been a year of repeated frustrations. Awoyomi was still willing to talk to me though, and he gave some insight into his life, his Wash. U. track career and what might come next for the Bears.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Student Life: I saw online that you played both soccer and track in high school. Did you have a preference?
AA: Definitely track. Soccer was a little bit stressful because I was the goalkeeper. I feel like track was not as stressful, really, because I didn’t have a team depending on me. It was just me, so I got to focus more on doing the best that I could as an individual.
SL: I remember I played one season of soccer and I think I was the goalkeeper for one game. The only time a shot ever came, I was standing behind the line, so it was an own goal even though I caught it.
AA: Ohhh noooo.
SL: I never wanted to do it again. What was it like for you deciding to come to Wash. U.? Did you know that you wanted to come here specifically for track or were you already going to come here anyway?
AA: I didn’t decide to come here for track. In fact, athletics weren’t even a big factor in where I wanted to go to school. I wanted to come to Wash. U. because I liked the curriculum, I liked how the classes looked and I liked the opportunities. I also just wanted new scenery, because I’m from New York and I didn’t really want to go to school in New York or anywhere as urban. I figured, why not Wash. U.?
SL: I’m also from New York, so that’s definitely something that resonates with me, too. You mentioned that you really liked the curriculum here, and you’re majoring in chemistry. What makes you want to major in chemistry, or what’s your favorite part of studying chemistry?
AA: Well, chemistry is a subject that doesn’t really come easily to me and I feel like in general most things have, so that fascinates me. I really just want to crack it. I want to really understand it. I feel like chemistry is one of the sciences that explains everything. It piqued my interest and I love chemistry now.
SL: Are you thinking of going to med school or something like that, or are you thinking about doing something more directly related to chemistry?
AA: I was thinking of getting a master’s degree and possibly teaching chemistry, trying to become a professor or doing research.
SL: That’s cool. I also saw online that you set some school records back at St. Ann’s in Brooklyn, where you went to high school. Do you remember what that was like when you set those records?
AA: I had been trying to set those records all through high school. I was mainly a sprinter in high school and I was fast, but I was the only sprinter on my team because we had a really really small team. So it was me, a 5-foot, 8-inch freshman running against 6-foot, 2-inch seniors, so it was a little difficult. I didn’t break the 100-meter record until my senior year. It felt amazing. I was really happy, super proud of myself. As for triple jump, which is now my main event, I didn’t start doing that until junior year. I broke the record my first week, so I was like ‘why not stick with this?’ and I consistently got better.
SL: Wow, that’s a great story. What was that transition like from, like you said, mainly being a sprinter as a freshman to doing the triple jump and focusing on that at Wash. U.?
AA: It’s been interesting, because I had been a sprinter for most of my life, but apparently I had been sprinting with really bad form. I was just straight up going at it as fast as I could with super crappy form. When I got here, my coach was like ‘your form sucks,’ which was a little sad to hear but it was also encouraging, because it meant that I could go faster, which is good, and that also helped me with my triple jump because fixing my form will help me jump farther. I feel like during practices, sprinting is definitely harder. Obviously a lot more running and a lot more consistent energy-drain, whereas for jumping it takes a lot of practice and you really just have to slam into the ground a couple thousand times.
SL: If your five year-old self knew that you were a college athlete right now, how do you think you would react?
AA: I’m pretty sure I’d be speechless. When I was five, I was super athletic. I’ve been super athletic my entire life and I really like running. I used to tell my parents that I was trying to be in the Olympics. And they were like ‘alright, go for it.’ And now, I don’t know about that, but I think I’d be pretty speechless. I’d be super proud of myself.
SL: Was there someone you looked up to when you told your parents that you were going to go run in the Olympics?
AA: Not really, not when I was five. But I feel like as I grew up, Wilma Rudolph was a very influential character for me, just learning about her history and how she persevered.
SL: I saw that you did an interview with Tim Farrell, from the University Athletic Association, for his series on race and racism, and I was curious whether you were a member of [the Washington University Black Letterwinning Athletes Coalition, WU BLAC].
AA: Yeah, I am.
SL: What’s that been like for you, because I remember I talked to some of the WU BLAC executive board members in the fall and it seems like a lot of the work they were doing to support Black student-athletes on campus was having a really positive impact. What’s that been like for you to be a part of that organization?
AA: I’m super grateful to be a part of it. I feel like the exec members put a lot of work into making Black student-athletes feel heard, and I’m definitely feeling more heard and more welcome as a result of being a part of such an organization.
SL: What are some of the ways that you’ve noticed Black student-athletes being heard more on campus?
AA: Oh boy, well I haven’t been a part of it for that long. But I feel like we’ve had a decent amount of discussions, not necessarily just within WU BLAC, but as a track team we’ve had some discussions about race and racism. I remember joining a Zoom call over the summer and it literally is just that: having people listen to you is important, having people listen and hear you and actually try to understand what you’re going through.
SL: Yeah that makes a lot of sense, and it echoes a lot of what the WU BLAC board members said about how having people recognize their concerns and listen to them is really powerful. On another note, obviously you didn’t get to have too much of a season last year, since it got cut short with the pandemic and everything, but is there a memory that sticks out to you from your time on the track and field team?
AA: Two things. One of them is not really a specific moment, but we have a lot of bonding events to get to know each other as a team and also as an event group, so the jump squad has a lot of fun times. We have taco nights and we used to hang out a lot. And then as a team we would do things—like we had games week the first week of freshman year—that [were] super fun. We’ll do things like trivia night, that kind of stuff. For a specific meet memory, it was 2020, February 21st, my birthday. I was super nervous, but I hit a personal record that day, and I could feel the team’s support because everyone was watching me. I would usually mess up out of anxiety, but I felt super comforted by having the team there for me.
SL: Yeah that’s cool, and congratulations about the personal record! I realize it was a while ago, but that’s still always kinda cool. That sounds nice about all of the bonding events, especially with the jump team and the smaller subsets of the track and field team. Just now I heard that the men’s team was just put on pause again about half an hour ago for COVID stuff, is that right?
AA: Yeah, I just read that email.
SL: What’s that been like for you guys, constantly having those starts and stops and pauses and everything?
AA: Obviously, it’s been a little frustrating. We had a couple meets get canceled and then we heard that the entirety of the indoor season had been canceled and that we were on pause and then off pause. It’s a lot to handle, for sure. But it is necessary, for everyone’s personal safety and the safety of the community, given the COVID-19 virus. So there’s not really anything you can get mad at, but it is a little disappointing.
SL: It seems quite frustrating, just to have that uncertainty and then after all of the work that you guys have put in, not being able to see the fruits of that labor. As a sophomore right now, there aren’t that many juniors on the team and the seniors are graduating soon. How do you envision your role as a leader on the team going forward, and how do you think your role is going to change in the next couple of months going into next year?
AA: I’m not entirely sure—I haven’t given that much thought. I feel like on the team, I’m just a goofy character. Though I feel like from freshman year to now, it’s definitely changed and I’ve definitely matured. Maybe, I don’t know, I’ll get more serious next year, given that the seniors will have graduated and there aren’t that many juniors. I really have no idea.
SL: Yeah, that’s fair. Since the indoor season was canceled, like you said, what are your goals and how do you continue to motivate yourself to keep working even when there isn’t an upcoming meet or a competition on the horizon?
AA: My main goal is to really just hold out hope and maintain the belief that things will change for the better eventually. Sometimes I just recall what it feels like to jump in the pit or run down the runway, and at least for me those are really important moments that I hold onto. I’m just like ‘maybe in the future I’ll get to do that again.’
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