Despite COVID-19 health regulations that stopped Unalaska's cross country team from traveling, the school district still moved forward with the season and students were able to compete with one another on the island and even virtually against some teams throughout the state.
And, along with sunshine, numerous community members showed up at the team's final meet on Saturday to show support as several runners recorded new personal records.
While the event seemed similar to most cross country meets, with family, friends, school principals, and teachers lined up near the start and finish lines, this year, attendees wore face masks and Unalaska's team was the only one present.
Head Coach Lucy Ortiz said it was a strange season that came with many questions and surprises.
"How do you get a group of high schoolers to agree to run in the rain and the wind every single day for two months, and then not give them an opportunity to travel and expect them to stay in it?" said Ortiz. "I think that was a challenge. But the kids really surprised me. They came ready to go."
Ortiz said the season was markedly unique, but the team was flexible and she and fellow head coach Joni Scott came up with creative solutions like socially distanced team dinners to help the team feel connected.
According to Ortiz, they also worked with some other cross country teams out of Southeast Alaska to host virtual meets.
"I have some friend coaches down there [in Southeast Alaska]," said Ortiz. "So we all kind of started texting, and it was like, 'Hey, you guys can't travel, we can't travel, let's compete.' So we would run here and all the other teams would run on their home courses. We would [put] all of our times together, and then we would just score out a meet. So it's not official, but it gave the kids another way to compete and stay engaged."
And according to the team, the dinners and virtual competitions worked. Despite the added distance and masks, several team members said they felt closer to one another than in previous years.
"We were more of a team this year. We were all closer together with each other and all of us are friends," said one of the runners.
"We're just like a crew that sticks together—a family," added another.
Most of the teenagers on the team said that staying motivated and pushing themselves without the added pressure of in-person competitions with other schools wasn't an issue.
For Herwin Riodil—a junior at Unalaska High School—staying motivated was a group effort, and winning meant doing so together, as a team.
"My parents were a big part, and coaches and my team, because they motivated me to work harder and practice," said Riodil.
Ortiz said the team ran somewhere around five official races. She said she's proud of the community for showing up and showing support during these strange times, and especially proud of the team for pushing themselves and finishing out the season.