s-XCFreshmen

The Husker cross country team competes at the Greeno/Dirksen Invite at Mahoney Park Golf Course on Sept. 15, 2018, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

A scroll through Twitter for Husker freshman cross country runner Lindsey Blehm came to a sudden end.

The Big Ten had just announced that fall sports were postponed due to the coronavirus and Blehm first saw the news on her Twitter feed.

She double-checked just to make sure right before the cross country group chat started firing off with shock and disappointment.

Since the Big Ten news, cross country has restructured dramatically. The facilities are rarely used, practices have transformed and athletes have lost the Training Table, Nebraska’s main nutrition hub.

“[The Training Table] was very accessible and it was everything you possibly needed as an athlete, nutrition wise.” Blehm said. “To find those things is a lot harder now.”

Freshman cross country runner and Illinois native Adam Christopher is one of many new student-athletes who have had to adjust to a different reality.

“Knowing when the meets are and everything else is a huge part of my academic identity and my schedule,” Christopher said.

Despite the loss of the season, practice continues on for the cross country team. One advantage for the team is that there is still a spring track season, meaning there is still reason to train.

That’s what has Christopher, freshman Lindsey Blehm and the rest of the team in a positive mindset. As of now, there is a spring season for the cross country team due to the cross country team being a part of the track team. The reality is that would mark almost one year with no meets and only practice since early August.

Preparation for the fall season had just started for the Nebraska cross country team when the announcement was made on Aug. 11. According to Blehm, she first heard of the news through Twitter and was shocked.

“I took a step back and looked at any site. Eventually someone texted in the group chat about it,” Blehm said. “It became real once we were talking about it and trying to get on the same page.”

The reactions were similar for the rest of the team as shock and disappointment of the Big Ten’s postponement of fall sports began to set in. All of those athletes lost their cross country season and the team's focus became ways to continue focus.

This massive blow meant that the incoming freshmen lost either all or most of their last high school outdoor track season along with a first college cross country season. That means no competitive outdoor running, a staple of long-distance track and cross country.

That was with the summer bridge program meant to get the cross country team ready for the fall and now, that was gone. 

Blehm, shocked by the news, had thought it wasn’t possible that her first collegiate cross country season would vanish. She said the reason for that thought was a combination of staying optimistic and denying that the fall season could be postponed.

“I was so shocked by the reality of not getting my track season that there was no way they’re gonna take away my fall cross country season ... that can’t happen,” Blehm said.

When the pandemic started, high schools across the country were moved online. Blehm and Christopher were two of millions of high school athletes who lost their last months of high school.

At first, Blehm remained hopeful of running in at least a couple of outdoor distance meets in May. As the days marched forward, the reality of one final season with friends and teammates faded away.

“It was really disappointing. It was something I’ve been looking forward to almost all of high school,” Blehm said. “It was hard to digest for a while not getting that last race, last meet with my friends.

The meets never came in May for Blehm but the first collegiate cross country season representing the Huskers was still so far away. However, the college season was expected to happen and they trained themselves for it.

The runs continued but instead of working with a group, the athletes ran solo due to social distancing guidelines. For Christopher, he was a part of Nebraska’s summer bridge program that prepared any Husker student-athletes for their upcoming season.

“I loved it,” Christopher said. “But summer training is supposed to be building up. It’s supposed to be intense.”

The preseason training mainly focused on distance running and kept athletes mostly to themselves. That was a measure taken to stifle coronavirus spread so that all of the training would not be halted, along with Christopher’s five-day quarantine when he moved onto campus on July 12 and was required for all student-athletes moving in.

After his five-day quarantine, Christopher never had to go back into quarantine but said other teammates did throughout July. That was the new reality the team was facing, as just one athlete testing positive could delay their training by a few weeks.

Current practices are now filled with separation, no sharing of anything and temperature checks before entering any facility. The big measure, COVID testing, is dependent on if someone were to get in contact with someone else. According to Christopher and Blehm, there isn’t mandatory testing unless they’ve come in contact with someone who has had COVID.

Those are some of the measures that the cross country team has taken to keep training along with limited use of the indoor track and little use of rest tools, such as ice baths.

“Practice is different in the fact that we kind of just show up, we run and then we just get out of there,” Christopher said. “You don’t need facilities too much but they’re definitely a luxury and it’s sad that we don’t have access to that as of now.”

For the freshmen, it’s unsettling to hear a sport you play might end one day before competing in a single race, and then facing the real possibility of not competing for at least another year.

In the days immediately after the season’s postponement, Christopher said he had two choices: continue to train or think of this season as a lost cause. For both Christopher and Blehm, positive thoughts overrode the negative ones. 

“I know a lot of people on both trains of thoughts who are viewing negatively and positively,” Christopher said. “It is what it is at the end of the day.”

sports@dailynebraskan.com