Sherando senior Gracie Ridings said recently that she’d primarily been a cheerleader during her high school career, though as a sophomore a friend talked her into checking out the Warriors’ track and field program. Seeing it as a chance to branch out, she recalled, Ridings gave the sport a shot.
“I actually ended up enjoying it a lot more than I thought I was going to,” Ridings said last week. “It really helped shape my character because it taught me to try new things, and I met so many new people, even from different schools.”
Conversations with several Sherando seniors about their time spent in the school’s track and field program all eventually ended up exploring the friendships they forged while competing in the sport. Ridings, Eldon Agard, Darius Lane, David Rivas and Tristan Sherman – part of a senior group that includes Joshua Bauer, Jabril Hayes, John Nocito, Long Pham, Ty Waits and Joseph Zollinger on the boys team, and Eleanor Lunde and Hannah Sandy on the girls side – each spoke highly of the relationships they formed as track athletes.
“Those friendships, regardless if they were a part of your same kind of group or if they were sprinters, jumpers, mid-distance, long-distance, everybody just kind of became a family,” Rivas said. “Everybody just goes into practice every day looking forward to bettering themselves. When you all kind of have the same end goals, then you just kind of build a bond that’s like no other. I can consider a lot of them family to me now.”
Sherman noted that the outdoor track and field members who also competed together during the indoor season were a particularly close group.
“Everybody knew each other from every group, and everybody would cheer for each other no matter what,” said Sherman, who joined the program as a sophomore after moving to the area during his freshman year. “After their events were over, they’d come over, cheer on the throwers, cheer on the sprinters. It was just a close group of people.”
Sometimes, like in the case of Agard and Lane, those friendships also had a competitive side. Agard and Lane, both hurdlers, often went back-and-forth besting each other in practice and in meets, said head coach T.J. Rohrbaugh, and both qualified for the Class 4 State Outdoor Track and Field Championships in the boys 110-meter and 300-meter hurdles last season.
“That really pushed me to the limit because he was a teammate, so he was very supportive,” Agard said of Lane. “He was also like an opponent at the same time, pushing me all the time in practice. It was really beneficial.”
Rivas’ favorite track and field memory speaks to the bond among Sherando’s track and field athletes. He recalled members of the team organizing a Thanksgiving dinner in which everyone on the team was invited and many attended.
“We all got together and hung out for the night and just had a great time,” Rivas said.
Agard, who isn’t fond of insects, recalled a moment during practice last season when he was “attacked” by a rather large bug that Lane had flicked in his direction, which Agard said prompted laughter from his teammates. He also said he and Lane used to find quarters during their trips across the infield of the track during meets, and had built up somewhat of a collection of them.
Ridings said two memories stood out most to her during her time in the track program, including a “silly” one in which she and teammate Indhya Hayes weren’t thrilled about competing in a 300-meter hurdles event and jogged the entire race while chatting and laughing. Ridings added that her first victory in the 100 hurdles was a landmark moment for her.
“It was a small meet, it wasn’t a super big deal but it was a big deal to me because it was something new,” Ridings said, “and it was just like being the first one over the finish line was just like a really magical moment.”
Sherman, a sprinter and triple jumper, listed an indoor meet at Shenandoah University, Strasburg’s Ram Country Invitational outdoor meet (during which Sherando’s boys 4x100 relay, of which Sherman was a part, won the event) and the Handley Invitational as his favorite meets.
Lane recalled two favorite memories, the first coming during last season’s Class 4 Northwestern District Outdoor Championships. Lane remembered having dead legs after moving straight from the 4x400 relay to the triple-jump pit, but was adamant that he use the 40-foot take-off board rather than the 36-foot board despite Sherando jumps coach Ryan Whittle suggesting Lane might be better served using the shorter board. Lane said he failed to reach the sand on his first two jumps – and his coaches suggested again, unsuccessfully, that he use the shorter board – but came back after “juicing” himself up and ended up winning the event.
Later that season, Lane had gone medal-less in his first three events at the state championships but was determined to get all-state in the 300 hurdles, his favorite event.
“My dad, he was nervous. He was like ‘Man, we can’t go home 0-for-4,’” Lane recalled. “I had to get on the block and do my thing, so I was really running with anger, a lot of passion because I just couldn’t go home empty-handed. I didn’t want to go home not giving it my all, so I just lined up on the blocks and ran the best that I could. Coming in ranked 10th, I was actually able to finish fourth out of the whole meet and earned my all-state label. I was able to become an all-state hurdler. That really just defines the whole track support itself. It doesn’t always matter where you start, it’s all about how you finish.”
Agard said that during his time as a high school athlete, he learned consistency and sticking with something is important for your overall improvement. Rivas, a team captain, said he learned leadership and communication skills that can be applied to everyday life, and Sherman said competing on the track and field team helped him mature as he soaked up “every little detail” that coaches and teammates offered him to help him improve.
Ridings said she learned lessons in handling adversity, in relationship building and in the value of trying new things. For Lane, also a standout on Sherando’s football and boys basketball teams, track and field was an “escape route” of sorts, and he said he enjoyed the fact that being a track athlete also meant being an “ultimate athlete” that required a lot of heart.
Rohrbaugh said all of the team’s seniors were a hardworking group that served as good role models for their teammates. That time as mentors, though, was cut short for those seniors by COVID-19.
“I was obviously bummed out in the beginning that the senior year that I was really looking forward to was kind of stripped away,” Rivas said. “But after I kind of got over it, I realized the only thing I can do is just appreciate the years that I did have being able to compete and being able to meet new people, and just bettering myself.”