Michael Leahy V, Contributing Writer
Through 10 months of uncertainty, senior thrower Makayla McGowan stayed motivated to return to competition when it was safe to do so.
“I definitely made an effort to train every day that I could, just because I wanted to stay on top,” McGowan said. “I knew in this field, any time off that we have, you could regress so much.”
After COVID-19 halted track and field competitions, junior thrower Jaekob Vollbrecht and McGowan experienced differences in how they were able to train and find access to both coaching and support in staying active. Despite this, both athletes used their competitive mindsets to remain among the top in the Athletic 10 conference upon their return.
McGowan’s return resulted in a first-place shot put of 13.51 meters, as well as placing third in the weight throw competition on Jan. 16 at the VMI Keydet Invitational.
The Nokesville, Virginia, native attributed her combination of competitive work ethic and drive to the support of throwing coach Ethan Tussing.
During her time off, McGowan recorded videos of her practicing throwing drills, which she sent to Tussing over social media for feedback.
“I appreciated that a lot because of course it’s helpful to get any kind of correction or critique from him,” McGowan said.
While available, the new reality of online coaching came with previously unexperienced difficulties for both the coaches and athletes. Navigating new norms of coaching, social distancing guidelines and a lack of access to equipment was difficult for Tussing.
“I didn’t want to be pushing people into an unhealthy situation,” Tussing said.
McGowan, an experienced athlete, is no stranger to adapting. A torn ligament in her wrist during the 2019 season forced her to sit out the entire year.
McGowan said her previous injury prepared her for a positive mindset during the time off by setting her focus on training consistently, rather than pining for a return to competition.
“It helped me more mentally than anything,” McGowan said. “At that point, I was expecting to come back, and it didn’t happen as soon as I wanted it to.”
Vollbrecht also dominated the shot put competition with 17.15 meters, allowing him to take a first place win at the Keydet Invitational.
Similarly to McGowan, Vollbrecht’s competitiveness kept him focused on training to prepare for whenever their return would come.
“It’s still weird for me,” Vollbrecht said. “I think from the time that I was five years old, I had never gone a full calendar year without competition.”
The Spotsylvania, Virginia, native said even though he was at home, his lifting routine didn’t change. Instead of lifting with his teammates, he trained with his brother.
Both McGowan and Vollbrecht highlighted the team’s chemistry and passion to support each other through their time away from the field.
“There’s a big support network here,” Vollbrecht said.
McGowan added that the team was supportive of one another, “trying to be there for each other.”
With fresh and motivated mindsets, both athletes are ready for the rest of their season. The A-10’s Nov. 16 decision to cancel the indoor conference championships, originally set for February, leaves the team set on competing in the outdoor conference.
Tussing has set this year’s goals for the outdoor conference, aiming for overall team success in medals and improvement in personal records. As McGowan said she aspires for a team victory, it’ll have to wait until the outdoor A-10 championships.
The NCAA granted track and field athletes the opportunity to return with an extra year of eligibility due to schedule changes presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. McGowan is undecided on taking advantage of the extra year.
Tussing said training on their own will make McGowan and Vollbrecht successful.
“All the stuff that people don’t see, the preparation is what gets you the result that you want,” Tussing said. “The great ones show up every single day, and that’s what makes them great in the end.”
Track and field is back in action on Saturday at the Brant Tolsma Invitational at Liberty University.