MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Looking to secure a state title and make New Balance nationals for the second year in a row, University High sophomore long jumper Sierra Lanham was devastated when the WVSSAC made the call to cancel the season.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Lanham said. “After I read the news, I had to deal with the fact I wasn’t going to have a track season.”
A multi-sport athlete, Lanham completed her freshman year of high school with a season of volleyball, basketball and track behind her, plus a 7th-place finish at New Balance Nationals after clearing the 17-foot requirement by the middle of the high school season. Coming into her sophomore year, though, she knew she had to make the tough decision to cut one sport out so she could train for outdoor track. She ended up forgoing another season of basketball, rather taking part in an indoor track season at Hagerstown (Md.) Community College. The competition she faced two hours away had her ready to tackle her outdoor season with UHS, but after the COVID-19 pandemic forced Gov. Jim Justice to mandate a stay at home order, the likelihood of her second-year goals began to fade.
“She was extremely excited for track season to start,” UHS girls’ track coach Jason White said. “When I told her I’d be at the school for signups, her response was, ‘Finally.’ The kid was busting as the seams to get started. The work she was putting in, she was going to be taking another huge step forward. Whenever this happened, she was very disappointed. The kid lives to compete.”
Now, with a few weeks behind her since the cancellation, Lanham decided not to focus on the past but rather how she’s going to come out of this pandemic and continue to meet her goals. Unlike her senior peers, she’s not done after this year and still has the chance to secure more state titles.
“I’m going to keep jumping and getting my legs strengthened so I can win a state title next season,” she said. “I do a lot of core [exercises] and steps. I also do a lot of 300-meter runs because one of my old coaches told me the way to get better is to do longer runs so you can get better at short distances.”
Although COVID-19 closed facilities, Lanham is one of the lucky athletes who can do most of her training at home. She’s also found empty fields to practice on. It’s this drive that shows White how dedicated she is to her craft.
“Track is her thing – she loves track,” White said. “She puts in the work, she’s [always] thinking of long jump and her sprints. Even during this quarantine time, she was diligent, and she wanted to make sure she had workouts. As far as our goals, we want the state record. By the time she leaves UHS, we want her to be the best ever in the state of West Virginia, not just at the time. Last year, our goal was four-straight titles. We didn’t want to leave any comparison for anyone. So we’re going to go for that state record.
“I really think she could’ve done it, her step forward from last year to this year was unreal. It is a disappointment, but I know for me, it’s made me more hungry, and next year, we’ll have to do double duty.”
While two more state titles and a state record are her goals for high school, Lanham has her eyes set on competing in the Olympics one day. It’s been a goal of her’s since childhood, and she knows the work she puts in now – especially during a time that demands perseverance – will pay off in the future.
“Ever since I was little, my big sister used to do track and I’d go to all her meets. I was mesmerized by how well they ran,” she said. “Eventually, I heard about the Olympics and watched one of the [running events] and I was so amazed and [knew] that’s what I want to do when I grow up.”
Still, Lanham is lucky to be a younger athlete during these times – something that doesn’t escape her.
“I feel bad for the seniors. They worked so hard and it just [went] away. One of my sprinter friends was working pretty hard for a state title this year and missed on it, so I feel pretty bad,” she said.