Track Moms' Stolen Memories

There's nothing quite like a mother's love for her child. We are happy when they are happy, we hurt when they hurt, we rejoice when they succeed, we grieve when they face defeat and we try to fix anything we can to make things better for our children. There is one defeat that parents of the class of 2020 graduates are just about helpless at and that is having to watch the gravity of the effect COVID-19 is having on their children's lives. This is especially true for the track moms who couldn't fix the abrupt interruption of this track and field season for their senior athletes. Yes, they realize this is bigger than running, but these are their children.

In talking to five mom's from across the state of Texas, Lori Wilcox, mother of Grant, senior at Plano East Senior High School, Lola Alvarez, mother of Pablo, senior at Frisco Liberty High School, Roselynn Ruth, mother of Alexandria senior at Fort Bend Marshall High School, Lucy Abeyta, mother of Michael, senior at El Paso Hanks High School, and Dana Embree, mother of Gabe, senior at Decatur High School their stories and feelings are all the same. Location or future plans of their children have not made the end of the track season, the end of their child's senior year any less painful. Their children's lives have been changed forever. According to Lola, "I am simply a momma from Texas who is witnessing my 18 year old son not being able to complete age appropriate and important milestones in a teen's life."

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Mother's Feelings

As a mother, Lori wasn't ready for Grant's senior season to be over. "I've always envisioned "knowing" when I would be watching his last race. Soaking up every moment and capturing it with videos and pictures. It would have been very emotional, but a happy closure."

She feels this situation is just "SAD" because of watching kids train for months and months on end to reach a goal and then the opportunity just vanished overnight. She said, "it doesn't seem fair, but no one ever said that life is fair." Lori takes immense comfort in knowing that Grant has built strong relationships with teachers, coaches, and friends dating all the way back to elementary school and knows that these will remain despite the abrupt end to his Plano education. "No conclusion to his high school track career and possibly no formal graduation ceremony is a hard pill for a parent to swallow. My heart breaks for the kids still working so hard for better times in the pursuit of college scholarships." The one positive she sees from this is the extra family time they are gaining with him before he heads off to college.

"No conclusion to his high school track career and possibly no formal graduation ceremony is a hard pill for a parent to swallow. My heart breaks for the kids still working so hard for better times in the pursuit of college scholarships."
Lori Wilcox

At first, the Embree family was in shock wondering how this could be happening in 2020 in a world so saturated with medical wisdom and technology. As they began to connect with loved ones across the globe, absorb the statistics, and hear about the dire realities we were facing as a human race; the shock turned to sadness. They were sad for all the loss of life and livelihood, there was already so much grief worldwide.

Decatur senior distance runner Gabe Embree and mother Dana Embree

They were sad to miss Gabe's final shot at a 5k PR on the track at Texas Distance Festival (TDF), sad that he hadn't been able to run in his school's final meet in Aledo that week because he was prepping for TDF, and sad that he didn't get to enjoy celebratory hugs with coaches and teammates one more time. They were heartbroken that he might never wear the championship season jersey he had intended to wear, and that he might not get a chance to defend his district and area titles, that his chance to go up against the best of 4A in the region 2 championship in the hope of securing a shot at state was gone. 

Dana states, "It was very real sadness, but it was balanced with our deep desire to remain hope filled through it all. We did not want to give in and lose hope. We are people of deep faith. We hold firmly to the truth that God remains in control and he will make beauty from the ashes of this life. He will take everything we surrender to him and use it for his glory." They knew this was especially true regarding their feelings about the abrupt ending of Gabe's high school running career.

As a photographer, Dana has been able to watch her son grow up in front of her camera lens. She has documented almost every race he has ever run. Her end plan was to have it all culminate as a championship season for the ages. Not being able to fulfill this goal hit her especially hard last week when Coach Park posted a picture of Gabe and three of his teammates falling into their coach's arms after they won state for the second time in XC. She said, "I began to cry, (ugly cry) right there in my office for the first time since this whole thing began.....this wasn't the way senior track was supposed to end. I was supposed to be photographing our seniors reaching their goals and posing with their medals."

Sadly, her camera has been gathering dust over the past few weeks as she's turned her attention to her sewing machine, making masks for their local hospital.

Lucy's feelings have ranged from disappointment to sadness to gratitude. She's disappointed that she's not going to be able to see Michael run on the track his senior year when it was going to be some of his best races, with his best times and living his best memories.  The sadness comes from not getting to see him get ready for prom, run on his home track, stand atop the podium, or attend awards ceremonies. Despite all of that she feels grateful that she is getting to spend some quality time with Michael before he leaves in the fall for the University of Oregon. She said, "going from the Desert Southwest to the Pacific Northwest will be quite an adjustment."

                  El Paso Hanks senior distance runner Michael Abeyta and mother Lucy Abeyta

The El Paso Hanks track team is a very close group and important to each other. Lucy stated, "we miss his friends as well as his coaches for the sense of community they brought to our family." Each year the Abeytas would host a spaghetti night. Michael's teammates would come over. They'd eat, talk, play games, listen to music, dance, and watch movies. It was always a special and much anticipated event. Before the season was cut short, out of town track meets were a special family time for the Abeyta family whether it was Lubbock, Austin, or Dallas. With living in West Texas, the closest city for them is Lubbock and that's a five hour drive. One such trip was going to occur over spring break. They were headed to TDF in Dallas when plans changed dramatically. Michael was entered in the elite 1600m and had a goal in mind. He wanted to PR at a time of 4:10 or under since he had not run a 1600 all season and he was hoping to do this on the same track in which he'd run a personal best of 4:16 his Sophomore year. 

Michael's sister, Andrea who runs at the University of Incarnate Word in San Antonio was going to be able to witness this as well since they turned it into a family vacation. Unfortunately, on March 12 TDF was cancelled due to Covid-19. Michael's coach immediately made arrangements for him to run in their local meet. At this time, El Paso meets were still on and Michael was entered in the 3200 on Friday and the 1600 on Saturday. As Michael was preparing to run the 3200, Lucy spoke with him and told him to "run as if it was his last race," little did I know that it would be. She states, "he ran that race with some of the top runners in the state and won with a time of 9:18." The next day El Paso's first case of Covid-19 was reported and the rest of the meet was cancelled.

It wouldn't be long until Andrea's collegiate season was also cancelled. She was given until the end of the month to get out of the dorm. The Abeytas made the eight hour trip to San Antonio and moved her home. "Just like that, her classes, track season, and life in San Antonio came to a halt," Lucy said. This has affected Andrea greatly as well. Last year, her team was 2nd in their conference and this year was looking promising. "Coming back home after having high hopes for our track season is disheartening," she said. Andrea feels she's been robbed of life experiences, making connections with people, and learning from those around her that she came in contact with while in a college setting. She feels the one positive that's come of the quarantine is appreciation for everything she has in her life. She stated, "it's given me another lesson on learning to adjust to different situations."

"I told him to run as if it was his last race," little did I know that it would be.
Lucy Abeyta

As time moves forward, Michael continues to train with the hopes that this will be over soon and he will have the opportunity to run before his senior year is over, but reality is rearing its ugly head and it's not looking promising. He went from training with his teammates, to running with his best friend, to now running solo. As a mom, Lucy is constantly talking to him about his physical and mental state. "I talk to him about staying positive, staying the course, and looking towards his future," she said. Michael feels through this tragedy he's built a stronger relationship with God and is truly discovering who he is as a person.

Lucy says she misses taking pictures and videos of his races. She also misses praying with him before his races. "Praying helped him get centered and focused. It was always a special moment between mom and son that I looked forward to every time," she said. She really misses hearing him talk race strategy with his father before his races like how fast he would take out, what splits he had in mind and sometimes he wouldn't have any strategy at all. He just wanted to run and have fun.

Ft Bend Marshall senior sprinter Alexandria Ruth, mother Roselynn Ruth, and family

Life has changed for Roselynn and the Ruth family as well. They were in the middle of planning Alexandria's graduation parties, prom and enjoying her last year of competing in high school. All of the fun and exciting times you should be having with your senior child have now been put on hold. Roselynn said, "we will miss seeing her run in the large meets in Houston, like the Texas Southern Relays and the Victor Lopez Classic. These have always been exciting times for our family."

Alexandria is extremely positive and resilient. Physically she's doing all she can to stay in great shape daily and hoping the track season isn't over for the year. She had hopes that this year she'd end it as a UIL 5A State Champion. She misses her coach and teammates stating, "there's only so much Facetime a person can do." Fort Bend Marshall's track team is a very close knit group. Most of the kids have either run club track or school track since they were small children. "We are happy we get to have some family time with Alexandria that's not tied to track. She's normally super focused on her season this time of year," Roselynn said. 

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9-11 And COVID-19

High school seniors are now experiencing the same wave of emotions and uncertainty that their parents did many years ago. 9-11 was considered the deadliest attack on American soil until Covid-19. Almost 3,000 people died that day and it forever changed the way we did everything from traveling to sporting events and it forever impacted life as we knew it. New rules were put in place as protection and prevention much like life will be once we are past Covid-19. 

This generation of kids were conceived and brought into the world in a very traumatic time and now, at one of the most impressionable times in one's life they are experiencing it all over again. 

Pablo was born two months before 9/11. Lola was holding him in her arms when she saw the first plane crash into the World Trade Center. Today, she is holding him in her arms reassuring him that all is well and making sure he stays healthy. Grant was born less than a month before 9/11. Lori remembers holding him and watching morning television when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. She said, "I wondered what kind of world we had brought our first child into." Gabe's existence began in the week's prior to 9/11. Dana tells the story, "the morning I saw the first ultrasound pictures of his tiny unformed body was the same morning I saw the second tower come down on the screen in my OBGYN's office waiting room." She laid in bed for weeks on the verge of losing her fourth pregnancy the same way she'd lost her previous three. She continued to watch the television footage of the aftermath of the attacks. She said, "I know Gabe was bathed in adrenaline as I struggled to keep from miscarrying him." This is how Gabe's life began and now he is about to enter adulthood turning 18 on his intended graduation day. Once again, his life is surrounded by chaos. Dana believes that all the adversity in his life has pushed him to be a fighter and that he strives to excel in all he pursues.

                           Frisco Liberty senior hurdler Pablo Alvarez and mother Lola Alvarez