On Monday, March 16, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds recommended for school districts to close for four weeks in response to the spread of COVID-19. As the state waits out these 28 days, Vinton Newspapers will tell the stories of high seniors in our coverage area affected by the suspension of their favorite spring activities.
Nicki Thomas got into track as far back as seventh grade, spurred by her mother’s dedication to running and jogging. Since then, Thomas has qualified for the State Track Meet five times and ran in the Drake Relays the past two years in a row. Despite injuries, multiple coaches and adversity over her career, track became the Center Point-Urbana senior’s sport of choice as a Stormin’ Pointer.
“I saw people going to State, running on the Blue Oval and so going into my sophomore year of track I decided I wanted to run there myself,” Thomas said. “I was lucky enough to make it to the Drake relays and State, which was so cool. That was definitely my first time crying tears of joy because of how passionate I am about it, and how much I loved it and how exciting I was.”
To prepare for her final season as a senior, Thomas trained with Elite Fitness in town and lifted weights to build up for her last chance at reaching State again. Despite her success, none of the events Thomas has been with have reached their respective finals or placed in the top eight of their class on the Blue Oval. This training was about a choice.
“It’s my choice if I want to be successful,” Thomas said. I got to stay on top of it and keep training.”
Then Thomas began to hear about COVID-19, the coronavirus. Her physician father discussed how there had been deaths from it, but maintaining a healthy lifestyle would slow the spread. Wash your hands, stay clean and disinfect when possible. Thomas never thought the virus would affect her life.
Yet the first cases of COVID-19 in Iowa were reported in Johnson County, eventually spreading to other counties slowly. At first, schools and communities simply limited larger gatherings and recommended disinfecting whenever possible. When professional and later college sports programs began to announce they were ending their seasons was when Thomas started to get nervous about her track season.
The first cancellation in Thomas’s world was not high school track and field, but rather show choir. Summit Street Singers celebrated their 25th Extravaganza with their annual runs of performances alongside the school jazz choirs on March 13, 14 and 15. The first two shows went on as planned. Then, a recommendation by the Iowa Department of Health came suggesting all events be held under 250 people. There was no way to have a show choir show with so many people when factoring in performers, volunteers and then finally the crowd. The final day was cancelled to the public.
“I was pretty shocked and heartbroken,” Thomas said. That’s when it kind of started getting real for me. I had family that was planning on being there for the show that day. It was pretty disappointing.”
The show went on behind closed doors in front of a select group of volunteers and in front of a video camera. Soloists performed their pieces to a cheerful crowd of classmates and each group lit up the stage one last time this season. Thomas found herself emotional after she performed with Summit Street Singers for the last time.
“I have really grown up a lot through show choir,” Thomas said. “I remember my first extravaganza. I cried because I would miss the seniors. Now I’m a senior and I cried because I’ll miss everybody else. This was a powerful group to be in.”
But the heartbreak for Thomas was just beginning. The next day, the Iowa High School Athletic Association and Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union announced in a joint statement that all spring sports were postponed four weeks beginning on Monday, March 16. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds would soon make a recommendation for school to close for four weeks as well. Center Point Urbana took the recommendation and closed on Monday.
“I definitely can’t believe it was four weeks,” Thomas said. “I thought for sure if they closed it would be less time. You have this idea of how your senior experience is going to be like. When I pictured the end of my senior year, this is definitely the farthest thing I could have imagined. I still can’t really wrap my head around it.”
Athletes are not allowed on school property until April 12 for most districts. Indoor meets were cancelled by host universities even before the governor’s recommendation. but that hasn’t stopped Thomas from continuing to work out on her own. She can be found in her basement on the treadmill preparing for the day she can place her two feet on a black top again.
“I’m making sure I keep like a normal routine and keep in contact with my friends to still have a social life,” Thomas said. “We’re advised to run outside in fields or parking lots. That’s pretty much as far as that goes because we can’t really meet with each other.”
Thomas remains optimistic that a track and field season will still happen in Iowa once the four weeks are up. She knows many athletes like her are itching to compete.
These track meets are part of the process of getting better,” Thomas said. It’s not just about showing people how fast you can run. It’s about running against other people that are even better than you because that pushes you a lot. That’s something I’m missing right now.”
As far as sprinters go for CPU girls track, Thomas is the only senior on the team. She will be asked to show leadership for young sprinters and is open to competing individually as well for the Stormin’ Pointers this season whenever it comes. Each day over this break, Thomas will stick to her “normal routine” in hopes of keeping her mind in the right place going forward.
“The virus was such an odd thing to happen because it seems like you read about, like the plague in the Great Depression in history books,” Thomas said. “These next few weeks are something that will probably be taught in history classes one day too.”