And They’re Off

Senior girls track participants share their experience on the West Track team while looking towards college and savoring their last season.

Natalie Dunlap and Abby Nachtman

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Leah Dusterhoft

Leah Dusterhoft ’17 started track and field in seventh grade at Northwest Junior High. Her older sister was very involved in sports and when Dusterhoft got into junior high, she followed in her footsteps. “My sister did volleyball and she managed wrestling and she also did track and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll just do everything she did in junior high,’ so I did those same things. I threw and then I really liked it.”

After developing an interest in discus and shot put throwing, events she still does today, she started working in the off season with a former West track coach and family friend of hers. “I just fell in love with it I guess. I just never stopped,” Dusterhoft said.

Over the years Dusterhoft has not only developed as an athlete, but her role on the team has changed as well. As a senior she has taken on a leadership role to help girls new to West sports, so much so that she was given a nickname, “A lot of the throwers call me ‘Mom’, just because I’m always like, ‘Where’s your coat? Do you have your keys before you leave [the] locker room?’” As an underclassmen, she had an older teammate who would look out for her and that made a difference, so as an upperclassmen she passed that guidance on. “I had those same questions, so I should help them with it,” said Dusterhoft.“… I texted one of our freshman throwers before our first meet and I was like, these are good things to have at the the meet … make sure you have snacks, and she texted me back and was like, ‘Thanks Mom’.”

While Dusterhoft helps her younger teammates, she also has stayed in touch with her former teammates that have graduated; It makes her feel good to know they are still supporting her even though they are no longer physically a part of the team.

Dusterhoft feels very supported by her current teammates as well. Some of the runners make an effort to learn more about throwing by asking her questions. “I’ve been really blessed at West to have so many good teammates,” Dusterhoft said.

One of the things Dusterhoft enjoys most about track is how black and white it is. “It’s not like some sports where you can just blame it on a ref … It’s very factual and not subjective, which I like.”

Dusterhoft is going to continue track at South Dakota University, but she will miss the West team. “I bet no one else would say this but I think I’ll miss our uniforms. They’re very bright and they’re very yellow,” Dusterhoft said. Having to wear the neon uniform is one of the things that unites the team, they call themselves the bananas. Dusterhoft will also miss the goofy team atmosphere.

 

Olivia Moore

During the 2013 track season, North Central Junior High almost didn’t have a girls cross country team. It was this shortage of participants that helped turn Olivia Moore ‘17 into the runner she is today. Her friend encouraged her to join so there would be a girls cross country team. Though she started track in seventh grade, a year earlier than her friends convinced her to join cross country, “That was really when I found my interest in running,” Moore said.

Over the years Moore has improved in both physical and mental aspect of track, she had described herself as being “scrawny” as a freshman. “For me the experience helps with nerves, I feel more confident … you’re always a little nervous for competition but I’m able to control it better,” Moore said.

Moore is supported by her family and teammates. Her parents drive her to track and host team dinners, while the support of her teammates can be heard as she runs around the track. “Every time I’m racing, you know, they’re screaming for me as I go around the track,” said Moore.

Moore also finds herself inspired by her teammates, “I see them do really well and that motivates me.”

Moore’s recalls one of the most exciting and emotional moments for the team, “One year at regionals it was super rainy out and it was going to be a battle between us and City, who was going to win and they announced that City High had won by one point, and so we were, you know, kind of disappointed. It was bad weather and we had just been there for several hours but then somebody came up to us and said, ‘No there was a mistake, you actually won by one point’. And so City High had to stop their victory lap, and give us the banner, and we were all cheering and that was pretty awesome,” Moore said.

What stands out to Moore about track is how it has such a wide variety of events, but is still a team sport. “It really does require a well-rounded team to do well.”

 

Valerie Welch

Valerie Welch ‘17 had her first track meet, not in junior high, but at recess in elementary school, “They had little races every day on the baseball fields and so … everyday would go out and do little races,” said Welch.

Welch joined track in 7th grade at Northwest. When she got into highschool, she decided she was going to narrow down the sports she took part in. “I was doing soccer through Kicker for a while, which I really enjoyed. I’ve been playing soccer in rec league since I was … four or something,” Welch said. The plan was to switch off between track and soccer every year, but she joined the West track team freshman year and has remained there since.

A challenge Welch has faced in her involvement in track is the time commitment. Track is such a major part of her life that sometimes it overshadows other parts. “Sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on stuff because … we’re so hectic and whenever [the track team is] not running we’re expected to rest and you know, drink lots of water … eat well, so you can’t be like, going going going all weekend,” Welch said. Besides social events, she has also missed class for meets.

Despite how much track takes over her life, what motivates Welch is the satisfaction of victory. “This kind of sounds bad, but I like winning … When you put in all this effort and it pays off and there’s, like, some sort of recognition …  it’s just rewarding because you put in so much work,” said Welch. She also really enjoys being in shape, and her participation in cross country and track has motivated her to stay healthy.

One of Welch’s favorite track memories took place at the Drake Relays last year on a rainy day. Peyton Steva ‘19 was on Welch’s hurdle team and was struggling to be consistent in steps between the hurdles. The steps must be the same or rhythm is off. “She was having problems maintaining thought the whole thing and she had yet to do it until we came to Drake, and then she did and she ran really well and we all just … ran super well and the favorite to win fell over hurdles ..  We got second and like, shattered the school record and shattered our own personal records. It was just nice on such a crappy day that we did well,” Welch said.

It is also at the Drake Relays when Welch notices standards for track are being raised, “One of the races we go to … is the Drake Relays, where they have … world champions who also race there and everything, it’s a pretty big meet. And so high school students can go and you have to qualify, based on … your time. And so you can see over the years that the cut off time for each even is getting, like, faster and faster …  the distance you have to jump to qualify is getting further and further just as people get better,” Welch said.

As West and their competition gets better, athletes must stay strong mentally and physically. “It’s [an] extremely mental sport … a lot of [other] sports you have strategy and like, literal teamwork on a cour or something. But track, it’s like you train and train and train; it’s really just running and the end of the day your body, if you’ve been training is ready for, like a hard running event, but if you’re not like, mentally ready to give it your all, then you’re not going to do as well,” Welch said.

 

Jessie Skopec

All the Skopec children were encouraged to go out for track by their father, a former runner; This is how Jessie Skopec ‘17 became the an athlete.

Skopec’s older sister is currently still running at Kansas University, and her twin, Gabby Skopec is one of her teammates.“I liked running before [Gabby] did … it took her some time to fall in love with it,” said Jessie.

There are positives and negatives of the sisters being on the same team. Sometimes it leads to fights, but it has also brought them closer, “It’s something that I can relate with her … she’s someone I can always talk to,” Skopec said.

Though it has brought them closer, they rarely participate in the same events and can have their time apart while being on the same team. “It’s kind of nice that in track we have both our own thing,” Skopec said. “…I like track because there’s so many events and everyone’s sort of off doing their own thing but then at the end of the day we come together,” said Skopec.

Unfortunately, Skopec has suffered multiple injuries in her athletic career. In track last year she had a stress reaction and this year in cross country she had to have surgery due to compartment syndrome in her calf. The injuries have slowed her down a little bit, but she has improved in other areas, “I think I’ve become mentally stronger and more positive,” Skopec said. “ … There’s bad races and … there’s good races and no matter what the world keeps turning.”

One of Skopec’s goals for this season is to get her time back down to what is was before her surgery.

Skopec has also learned about preparation before meets from an experience she had the first year she was on the West team. Herself and a group of girls missed their heat and while warming up. “Ever since then I’m very worried about when to warm up, … I usually warm up a little early because I don’t want to miss my heat again,” Skopec said.

Other experiences from her first years on the team still affect her today. Skopec was dubbed the nickname “J-Trippin” because she would frequently fall on flat surfaces.

Though she is careful punctual at meets,  there is a ritual that time is set aside for. “Before a relay we’ll pass the baton around and everyone kisses it, and then the anchor has to like it. Some people are not a fan of that,” Skopec said with a laugh.

Skopec thinks what sets the West team apart is how hard their coach, Mike Parker, pushes and challenges them to be achieved all they can. “I think we’re one of the hardest working teams and it’s a great atmosphere,” Skopec said.

Intense workouts aren’t just a strain on the body though, they are a strain on the mind as well, “You know it’s going to make you better in the long run if you just tough it out,” Skopec said. The work ethic developed has motivated Skopec to work hard in other areas of her life, “I try my best in everything because of track.”

The runners shared advice for new athletes:

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And They’re Off