Athlete Spotlight: Chloe Stewart Clears Hurdles Amid Coronavirus Shutdown
Leaping Obstacles: Napavine Track Star Trains at Home With Makeshift Hurdles
By Eric Trent / firstname.lastname@example.org
WINLOCK — As the final bell rang at 3:05 p.m. on Thursday, March 12, Napavine senior Chloe Stewart walked straight to the Tigers’ eight-lane track and began measuring the distance between hurdles, one foot at a time. Not by 12 inches and not with a measuring tape, but with her own two feet. Thirty two of Stewart’s steps in all is the regulation distance between each high school girls hurdle.
“I knew stuff was going to happen, so I wanted to know,” Stewart said. “I was like, ‘This might be my last practice.’”
Stewart, a state-class hurdler, had a feeling that with the weekend approaching and the novel coronavirus outbreak gaining momentum, this might be her last chance to nail down the exact distance before Napavine High School was shut down.
Turns out, she was right. Less than 24 hours later, Gov. Jay Inslee announced the closure of all K-12 schools in the state from March 17 to April 24. It snowed that day, Friday the 13th, marking what might be Stewart’s last track practice of her high school career.
It’s done little to dissuade her. For five days a week since, Stewart has been setting up her father’s saw horses in their gravel driveway, all two of them, exactly 32 Chloe steps apart. They’re about the same height as the 300-meter hurdle settings, but a bit shorter than the 100-meter hurdles. Either way, she attacks them just like she’s done the past three years, with calm ferocity.
“I was like, ‘saw horses look like hurdles, I’m just going to use those,’” Stewart said. “They work really good.”
Stewart is one of the top 2B girls track and field athletes in the county, and likely in the state had this season gone on. She advanced to the state tournament in four events as a junior last season, placing sixth in the 300-meter hurdles (48.65), seventh in the triple jump (34-9.5), ninth in the long jump (15-8) and 11th in the 100-meter hurdles (17.78). It earned her a spot on The Chronicle’s All-Area Track and Field Team in June.
It’s tough enough mastering one event to the point where one can qualify for state, let alone four. And not just that, by the time Stewart gets to the long and triple jump pit, her legs have already hurdled 400-meters that day. But it’s that type of attitude that’s carried her to success, and why she wakes up at 7:30 a.m. every morning to begin her training regimen — even when it seems like she may never compete in track and field ever again.
Her day begins with a two-mile run on her treadmill, followed by weight training with a set of 15-pound dumbbells in her parent’s shop. Next is stair exercises. Then she sets up the saw horses and works on her form and nailing down her three-step technique between hurdles. Then she heads back inside to check her emails, finish homework and finally hangout with her family.
She has no training partners, neither friends nor teammates. The Stewart house is on total lockdown. No one is allowed over. All of her immediate family, her mother, father and sister, have compromised immune systems. She had her friends over one last time after the final day of classes that Friday, March 13.
I was kind of a wreck,” Stewart said. “I was like, ‘OK, I need to go home and cry for like four hours because this sucks. I invited my friends over and we hung out that whole day because I knew I wouldn’t get to hangout with them. I haven’t seen them since that day.”
She took that weekend off and starting that Monday, March 16, has been going full bore in her training. She’s struggled with self motivation, having no teachers, coaches, teammates or friends to push her.
“It’s been pretty tough because normally this is my favorite time of the year,” Stewart said. “I have a lot of friends on my track team and I love being able to hangout with them. Being at school is another thing I love doing and it really sucks I won’t be able to do either of those things.”
Saturday is her day off and Sundays she only runs two miles on the treadmill and calls it a day. Her classes are all online and the work has been pretty easy, so far. Easier than what they were doing at school. Monday, March 23 was the first day of schoolwork as spring break just ended. Her and her classmates keep in contact with their teachers and receive and turn in homework through Google Classroom.
“I’ve been trying to keep busy at home by myself,” Stewart said. “I’ve been trying to keep in touch with my friends, as far as calling them, seeing how they’re doing. Just to, like, fill that void.”
Stewart and her classmates are beginning to see everything they had been planning on for senior year is becoming further and further out of reach. And that, she said, is what’s been the toughest to deal with, so far.
“If things don’t get better I could possibly lose the end of my senior year,” Stewart said. “I might not even get to graduate. We had an awesome senior trip we were excited for. We had prom that might get canceled. These are things I’ve been looking for since I was literally in middle school. Then we get here and it might not actually happen.”
Stewart is also facing the reality that these training sessions in her driveway might be the final remnants of her track and field career. Stewart was primed for a breakthrough season and had a good shot at reaching the finals and placing top-eight in all four of her events at state this spring. Instead, she’s left wondering what might be.
“Everyone always says, ‘Don’t take your time in high school for granted because it will be over before you know it,’” Stewart said. “I would be like, ‘I have next year, I have next year.’ Then next year gets here and I don’t actually have next year. So that’s kind of defeating.
“If I could change one thing, I would have enjoyed my last three years at track a little bit more and I would have worked harder than I did. This was going to be a good year for me to maybe have coaches notice me and have different options. That’s another thing that really sucks, is that I could have possibly gotten a scholarship with track.”
With the possibility of track starting up again this spring looking grimmer and grimmer, and no current offers from any colleges, Stewart is looking at the option of playing soccer for Centralia College, where she’s been in contact with the coaches. Stewart has played soccer since kindergarten and led the Tigers with 14 goals last fall, earning her a spot on The Chronicle’s All-Area team.
Wherever she ends up this fall, she’s not looking too far ahead. She has work to do now, at home, and she’s not letting anything get in the way of that. Not even a virus.
“Now that I’m here, why should I just give up now when there’s even, maybe, a one percent chance that I might get to have a chance at doing what I love,” Stewart said.