STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Being a mountain town track team is about being resourceful and willing to compete in any condition.
This week, the Steamboat Springs High School track team is sharing space with boys and girls lacrosse, girls soccer and girls golf. For an hour and 15 minutes, athletes split into their respective spaces to make the most of an unconventional practice.
Jumpers leap onto large mats, emulating their long, triple and high jump techniques. Throwers run through footwork and arm motions, throwing rubber shot puts and discuses for short distances.
Distance runners travel outside on the roads, but sprinters stay inside on the indoor track at Kelly Meek gym, where they work on their starts and running curves on a track where 14 laps equal a mile, rather than four. Sailors head coach Lisa Renee Tumminello watched as her sprinters focus on generating power in their step, running on a line of balance balls.
“Our goal this year is despite the weather, despite the conditions, is how can we help them to do their best before warm weather hits in May,” Tumminello said. “We live in the mountain community. That’s who we are.”
The heat of Grand Junction may be troublesome to runners in late April or early May, but athletes from a mountain town will be the last ones standing at a blizzard meet in Battle Mountain.
“I remember there were three 4-x-8 (hundred meter relay) teams, so we were each guaranteed a medal,” Sailors senior Charles Leech said.
It’s a funny memory, one of many that are built on the mutual suffering of track season. As a team of 120 athletes, it’s ironically known as the closest team in Steamboat.
“That’s such a great story,” Tumminello said. “We showed up at Battle Mountain, and we got there on two buses. Before the 100-meter dash and national anthem, it’s blizzard conditions. There were teams on the bus rolling out, and we were like, ‘OK, so here we are.’”
The meet was eventually canceled, but until it was, the Sailors kept competing. They ran in sweatpants and parkas, hoping they could get their races in before spring break, which usually happens the week before the regional meet.
The challenge for the sprinters at practice is in the perception of the indoor track. Since 14 laps equal a mile, it’s hard to tell if they’re running a 100 or 200. But there is a plus to practicing inside.
“We’re not getting pelted by lacrosse balls,” Steamboat junior Maddie Craigen said. “We’re kind of target practice for the lacrosse team normally. Right now, we’re working on starting or getting in shape, which is the worst part of it all, circuit training on the track down the stairs.”
Every member of the track team was sore from the previous day’s workout, but Craigen said the burn came from squats and a horizontal running exercise where runners pushed weights across the carpeted ground outside the gym.
“It’s sprinting horizontally to practice your form and your start,” Craigen said.
Craigen is a member of the 4-x-100 meter relay, which missed a state appearance by one spot last year. She hopes that they can join the distance runners in bringing a presence at the state meet. The indoor practices may not be ideal for endurance training, but the challenging technical intricacies of sprinting races are almost more heavily emphasized.
“You get very good at running corners, pulling your arm in,” Craigen said. “That’s what we’ve been working on — power out of the blocks and doing the corners.”
The Sailors have a strong distance core on the girls side with seniors Winter Boese and Isabel Boniface and junior Maggi Congdon.
Last year, girls 4-x-800 meter relay placed third at state and broke the school record. This year, they hope to break their own record and repeat a top-three finish.
All three girls raced at the state cross-country championships last year.
As a competitive group, the distance runners are already thinking about regionals in Grand Junction in early May.
“I think that’s also what’s fun is we all got put in a bunch of events to score as many points as possible,” Congdon said. “Because, everyone was trying to score as well as we could for our team.”
Distance runners aren’t as limited as others and are able to train outside. Running on a track is different from the trails or roads and poses a mental challenge for distance runners to keep their pace and speed.
“You see a full range of emotions at track,” freshman boys distance runner Bowden Tumminello said. “Sometimes, you just ran a personal best or broke a record. Sometimes, it wasn’t your day.”
Sailors junior Jack Tracy knows what it takes to make the state competition, but he has more than one uphill battle to climb.
Tracy tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus in his left knee during football. Last year, he qualified for state in discus, and this year, he hopes to add shot put to the list despite being limited to just upper-body training for half the season.
“It’s going to take hard work and not thinking about my leg, not letting it drag me down,” Tracy said. “Last year, it was more like a mental thing with shot put. I’d see all the other big dudes and be like, ‘Oh my God.’”
The throwers were sharing a space with the jumpers in the auxiliary gym. They used rolled out turf as a surface to throw on.
Eric Casey, a senior, is a “jumping god,” according to his teammates.
“He’s like a second coach,” Leech said. “So, if I have a question, and I don’t want to bother the coaches, I ask him.”
Casey won the state championship in pole vault last year and plans on adding another medal to his collection, but he also competes in long and triple jump.
Leech joins him as primarily a long and triple jumper, and he’s looking for his first state berth as a senior. He believes his best odds will be in long jump. The school record reads 22 and 1/2 feet and serves a measuring stick for his goals.
“I know it’s a long shot, but I want to be on the record board,” Leech said.
The track team travels to its first meet in Rifle on Friday, March 15, and conditions have forced them to roll with the punches.
But there’s even more excitement to come this season as the Sailors host a small state-qualifying meet Wednesday, April 17, for the first time in possibly a decade at the newly-renovated Gardner Field.
“When we decided that the field and track would be ready to go, most weekend dates were taken up,” Tumminello said. “We decided on a midweek meet, which is not optimal for a lot of teams. We’re making it small, so we’re really be able to highlight our athletes.”