COLUMBIA — At first glance, it seems Fr. Tolton Regional Catholic High School’s campus has no track.
A gravel ring surrounds the football and soccer field, but it is hard to recognize as a track until Trailblazers are running on it.
There are no sandpits for jumping. The gravel is uneven and has permanent ruts. The “track” is not meant to withstand the full training regimen of a high school track meet or being run on in the rain.
The Trailblazers often travel to Southern Boone High School in Ashland to use the Eagles’ track after the its practice ends.
Still, the Trailblazers love the campus they have.
The high school sits on lakefront property in southeast Columbia in between A. Perry Philips Park and the Gans Creek Recreation Area. Few trees or buildings can be seen from the track, and the 40-acre Perry Philips Lake is the most noticeable part of the landscape.
Tolton coach Patrick Kelly said the path around the lake is used by all Trailblazers' athletic teams for training, and he estimated every Tolton athlete will run it 1,000 times before graduating.
Sophomore Madelynn Harvey said the team ran the route around the lake during her first practice and spotted a bald eagle.
“That is the only time we get to stop running,” Harvey said.
Senior thrower and hurdler Lacey Stephen said the peaceful beauty of the area provides relief from the stress of graduation.
The lack of tall objects adds to the lake's relaxing aura.; however, it also means strong wind is a near-constant companion of the Tolton track and field team.
Kelly said windy practices are good. They take away the team’s ability to make excuses at windy meets and allows his athletes to feel particularly fast at windless meets.
“The wind helps push us,” Harvey said.
The Tolton track team has about 35 athletes and 10 of them play a second spring sport as well. Harvey splits her time between track and competitive cheerleading.
Because Tolton just began competing in varsity athletics in fall 2012, many students juggle multiple sports so the Trailblazers can field teams.
“It’s good for them," Kelly said. "We like seeing all Tolton sports be successful. Some of our best runners are baseball players.”
Each of the two-sport athletes have a primary sport they compete in if both sports compete the same evening. For many of the athletes, track is a secondary sport.
“It’s a little challenging not knowing who’s going to be at practice,” Kelly said
When athletes aren’t able to make it to meets, it diminishes the team’s already small numbers. Athletes who compete in the maximum four events are forced to try different ones, and other athletes are forced to step up and take on more responsibility.
“If anyone’s injured, you’re suddenly put into craziness,” Stephen said. “It’s all about adapting and sacrificing yourself for your team.”
To Kelly, though, his team isn’t small. After all, about 20 percent of Tolton students run on the track team, and the team is almost twice as big as it was last year.
Kelly said his team’s defining characteristic is its toughness, not its size.
“They share a common Catholic identity; they work hard and don’t make excuses,” Kelly said. “I’d like to say they’re one of the tougher and more competitive girls teams out there.
“I like the idea that they have fun winning.”
The toughness starts with Harvey.
Kelly said the 5-foot-3 cheerleader succeeds at the 400-meter run “because it’s about being tough.”
“Any stereotypes about cheerleaders being dainty definitely don’t apply to her,” Kelly said.
The tough Trailblazers have tasted their fair share of success this season. They have finished in the top three in every meet so far.
In high school track, though, regular season meets don’t usually garner too much attention.
“Meets throughout the season are kind of like glorified practices,” Freidel said.
Tolton’s district track meet begins in two weeks, and Kelly is excited to have his whole team there.
“At districts, we know we’re going to have our team,” Kelly said.
That’s when Kelly’s tough girls from a gravel track will have a chance to show off.
“Look for us,” Stephen said. “You’ll see us soon. We’re small but mighty.”
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