By Oluyemisi Bolonduro ’23
My senior year of high school, I planned on quitting track. I doubted my capabilities too much to consider being a college athlete, so I was already anticipating the end to my competitive career. When it came to hurdles, my main event, I could never three-step through all ten hurdles (the shortest, most efficient number of steps between each hurdle in the 100m is three). I always got in my head during the 300m hurdles (I was having full-on conversations with myself), leading to “choking” in the middle of my races. I would be going full speed and suddenly I’d shut it all down and stumble and stutter the rest of the race. Even if there was no external sign that something was wrong, I’d tell myself that if I didn’t slow down, something would go wrong. It felt like a waste of time to go through this cycle of self-sabotage, and the easiest way out seemed to be quitting.
Thankfully, I didn’t.
Fast forward to the district championships. I was competing in three events to qualify for state, and the first was the 100m hurdles. I spent the whole day worrying that I’d choke because of my nerves. To make matters worse, I had tripped over a hurdle two days prior in prelims, so I didn’t feel comfortable with my seeding for state. You can imagine how excited I was when I three-stepped through all ten hurdles for the first time during district finals. It was the perfect race at the perfect time: the race I needed to qualify for state, and I finally did the deed!
Unfortunately, my performance still wasn’t enough. I missed qualifying for state by eight hundredths of a second.
Next up was the 4x100m relay. There, we missed qualifying for state by six hundredths of a second.
Finally, it was time for my last race: the 300m hurdles. The first half I was doing well, starting off fast and aggressive, focused, seeded for state. But then a girl in the lane next to me hit her hurdle, and I got in my head. What if she fell… what if you fall… you’re going faster than usual… you should slow down… NO NOT THAT SLOW YOU’RE STUTTERING… everyone’s at the burnout corner… you’re slowing down with them… this is when you always give up. But this time, something clicked, and I refused to give up. I started speeding up, I started passing people. I don’t think I’ve ever pushed myself so hard to finish a race, especially in the 300m hurdles. I crossed the finish line and watched the lil’ clock for my time to appear.
I missed state by four tenths and three hundredths of a second (oh, also, I don’t have these memorized… I checked online).
I was sad of course, three solid chances for state and all of them gone in barely half a second or less. But for one meet, I had done quite a lot. I finally overcame a four-year mental block by three-stepping through all ten hurdles, I ran a relay leg competing for state, and I PRed in a race that scared me so much I had avoided it for a full season (PR is a personal record).
Now, I had a lil’ more confidence in my athletic capabilities, but I was still set on doing intramural track at most if I ever ran in college. I wish someone had recorded my face during orientation week when I heard the athletic director say not once, but twice, “we do not have intramural track here at Pomona.” The decision to bring my spikes to college took forever, and there wasn’t even a team I could train with?! Well, I mean… we both know there was a TEAM, but I wasn’t going to bother toying with that idea.
Except I did.
Within a month, I had emailed the track coach asking if I could walk on. Short story shorter, I did just that. Now let’s skip to spring track season!
My first college race was the 100m hurdles. I did indeed not three-step through all ten hurdles. I could’ve gotten an Emmy award for the tears that followed (call me Oluyemmysi… except don’t cuz Icky Introductions). For so long I had lacked faith in myself because I told myself I was too slow, too weak, too inconsistent, too many other put downs that went through my mind during practices or races, and I was disappointed and frustrated that the cycle seemed to be starting all over again.
I had walked on to the Pomona-Pitzer track team to challenge all these things I said about myself. I knew I would see progress if I met specific marks (quantitative results like times or steps), but first I had to trust myself and get past my mental blocks (the qualitative results that I wanted to see the most). I saw that I was getting there a few times during practices. When the coach would go, “one more rep??” A few of us would chant, “LESSSGOOOOO!! ONLY ONE MORE!!!!” two extra times… that doesn’t add up, but hey, we were getting stronger!
So, I’m a work in progress. Maybe a few years down the line, I’ll have a follow-up to this post… we shall see!