Staring down a runway last Saturday, Joan Easter felt stress.
For the first time in months, she was able to do something about that.
Competing at the Chicago Jumps and Sprints Fest at St. Rita High School in Illinois, Easter had an opportunity to showcase herself again and measure her progress. The Northwestern senior-to-be reached the State Finals in long jump as a sophomore, but had her critical junior season wiped out when the IHSAA shut down spring sports to combat spread of COVID-19.
Saturday was her first competition since the pandemic brought sports to a halt.
“It was definitely a relief because in the country at the moment it was one of two meets that were non-virtual, that were specifically for sprinting and jumping,” Easter said. “I was very thankful to have a meet that I was able to go to, but it was also very stressful because I was looking to get the times I needed.”
Easter wants to compete in track and field at either Utah State or BYU and those schools have to make recruiting decisions by the NCAA deadline of Aug. 31. Losing her junior season meant she didn’t have current times and distances to show colleges. As a result, Easter has to get numbers on the board before Aug. 31 in order to give herself the best chance at a scholarship and a spot on a track and field squad.
Despite missing the 2020 high school track season, and all those practice reps, Easter showed progress in Chicago.
“The meet actually went really well,” she said. “Last year [2019, as a sophomore] I had the opportunity to go to state with my long jumping and I did pretty decent. I PRed quite a bit last season. This meet I was able to PR by almost a foot, it was 11 inches. I had a jump of 17-7. That was really cool with having to quarantine and not getting to have a season.”
Easter had gone to Chicago hoping to run the 100-meter dash as well, but an injury kept her from sprinting that day. In the long jump at least, the Chicago experience showed that she’s made progress over the last year-plus since her sophomore season ended.
“I was definitely better than I was last season because my coach [Chris Rockey] has been willing to work with me outside of normal practices and we’ve been training for this season since November of 2019. I think that’s made a huge difference in my abilities and something I’m really thankful for.”
Training the last few months has been makeshift because school was done online and facilities closed off.
“We’ve been doing lifting twice a week,” Easter said. “[Rockey] has set up a workout for me to follow which I was following over March and April. The last couple weeks I’ve started soccer, so that’s pretty good for keeping me in shape.
“A lot of high schools don’t have their tracks open. We had to use a middle school track. That was the best thing we could find. There we could work on some long jump techniques and sprinting. It’s definitely harder to do when you don’t have a track that’s open full time.”
All that work needs to be measured to pay off with a college opportunity. A college coach gave Easter specific times to run in the 100 this summer. Since the recruiting deadline ends in a month, she has to find ways to register official times and long jump distances in the coming weeks. She wants to participate in a virtual meet on Aug. 14 in order to get the times and distances she’s shooting for.
This summer, Easter said “I’m shooting for a 12.0 or sub-12 for the 100-meter dash, and I would like to hit 18 feet for long jump.
“I feel like right now, I’m in as peak a condition as I’m able to get in. I will definitely need adrenaline. I definitely feel like I’m able to do that — a lot of that is because of my coach. He’s been extremely helpful in taking time out of his day to do that stuff with me.”
Getting back to soccer practice has been a win-win. She likes being at practice, and gets to work on speed and conditioning that help her in track.
Easter plans to attend school in person at Northwestern this fall — instead of one of the virtual options — and getting to practice with the soccer team has been a welcome step.
“It’s definitely been better for sure,” Easter said. “This summer’s been pretty stressful, definitely different than what you’d normally do because normally you’d go hang out with people and I’d do track practices with teammates. Getting back to something more normal, even if it’s just two hours a day, is really nice. [It’s] definitely been a stress reliever.”