The Lions track and field team welcomed their OUA counterparts on March 19 and 20 for the track and field championship.
While the Lions fell short of a position on the podium, impressive performances by gold-medalists Kaitlin Brooks and Leah Jones put up much needed points on the scoreboard and helped York secure a fifth position in the women’s standing.
Brooks, a kinesiology and health science student, won the gold in the shot put at the OUA championship with a distance of 14.62 metres — nearly one metre further than the rest of the field.
However, for Brooks the job is still not done and celebrations have been put on a back burner — with the exception of an intimate dinner with their family on Friday.
“It is not over yet. U Sports is next Friday and while it’s a good feeling to come first in the OUAs, it was not the performance that I would have liked. I’m glad I got to learn something from it.”
This gold medal marks a comeback for Brooks who underwent a major foot surgery and has been in recovery for two years.
During these two years, with limited training options, Brooks and her father fixed up the circle at her old high school, so that she remained competitive in the event the OUAs resumed.
“I trained as if I were competing in the next season, even if the season was later postponed or cancelled.”
While she acknowledges the mental toll this uncertainty brings, Brooks does not like to spend time thinking on the “what ifs,” which she believes is just catastrophic thinking.
Shot put is an intense sport, where athletes have only limited attempts to give their best. In such high pressure situations, Brooks believes that the key is, “Don’t think. Just throw.” Her past experiences have taught her that when she overthinks scenarios, it doesn’t bode well for her.
As a seasoned athlete, Brooks displays an attitude of utter calmness and focus while gearing up for her turn in the field events. She cites this as a result of experience and relaxation practices, especially breathing and visualizing techniques that help in her hitting positions properly and getting the big throw when you need it.
“There are situations when you need to energize yourself, but sometimes, when you are in the heat of the battle, you need to relax.”
The day of the competition, Brooks likes to treat as any other day. With track and field events occurring over a span of two days, from morning till evening, Brooks’ time to shine did not come in until later on in the evening.
This is why she thinks it is important to let her body wake up on its own and just relax.
“If you go into overdrive too early then by the time your turn comes around, you are just burnt out,” says Brooks.
“However, it is a fine balance between being too nervous and not nervous at all,” Brooks says.
“Nerves are a good thing. Having nerves means you care.”
At the end of the day, when it comes to being a student-athlete, Brooks asserts that she is a student first. Echoing similar thoughts, fellow gold-medalist Leah Jones, also prioritizes being a student — according to her, there is a false sense of security in thinking of yourself as only an athlete.
Jones, also a kinesiology and health science student, won the gold medal in the long jump at the OUA championships with a distance of 5.98 metres.
She is also preparing for the U Sports championship being held in New Brunswick next week. “I am spending 15 to 20 hours a week just training.”
Both Jones and Brooks gave credit to the coaching staff at York for helping them through injuries, the pandemic, and their training.
Head Coach Rudder expresses his support for Jones and Brooks. “It was rewarding to see both Jones and Brooks on the podium. Their work ethic speaks volumes about the love for the sport and their commitment to performing on demand. It’s just an awesome feeling to witness the fruits of their labour.”
For Jones, she hopes that her gold medal and the performance of the team overall further boosts their platform as a competitive varsity sport.
“For such a young team, we are very pleased with the performances and efforts given at the just concluded OUA championship,” says Rudder on the team’s performance. “This team has worked smart all season long and we could not ask for more when they are giving us personal best performances along with season best results. As a coaching staff, we are excited for the seasons ahead with this group.”
As for the next steps, Rudder talks about how he keeps the players ‘hungry’ for wins.
“At this point we just continue to build on their strengths and try to improve their weaknesses so they can have the opportunity to perform at nationals. Keeping the volumes low but training intensities high is the order of the day to maintain their competition fitness. Our diligent athletic trainers and medical support team make sure that they are ready to handle the tasks at hand.”