Canceled season a bump in the road for UNI runner and former Comet McKayla Cole
By John Burbridge
Competing in a sport that places a premium on cutting time, McKayla Cole wasted no time in transitioning from a high school student-athlete to a college student-athlete.
Fresh off placing runner-up at the 2016 State Cross Country Championships with what was then a Charles City school record in the 5K, Cole soon graduated early and immediately enrolled at the University of Northern Iowa to run with both the Panthers’ track and cross country programs.
Wasting no time again, Cole made an immediate impact.
The spring after her final high school race, Cole placed third in the 5K at the USATF Junior Nationals while representing UNI though competing as an unattached redshirt.
The following fall in cross country, Cole emerged as the Missouri Valley Conference “Freshman of the Year” after placing 10th in the conference race to earn All-MVC honors.
Cole didn’t stop there, attaining accolades and titles throughout her sophomore and into her junior seasons at UNI including another All-MVC XC honor in 2018, and earning numerous 3,000-meter and 5,000-meter invitational meet championships in track.
Going into her junior outdoor track season, Cole still was chasing future PRs.
“I had big goals for this season and was excited to check them off,” she said.
Now that’s going to have to wait as Cole, like most everyone else in the world, has hit a speed bump.
“The abrupt ending to my junior outdoor track season is devastating and definitely not what I had envisioned,” Cole said about her and every other college spring sport season canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Now that the season has ended, I’m not going to lie, I’ve juggled with my thoughts and have struggled with understanding the point of training now since it could be a while before competing again,” she said. “I’ve never had more than a two-month window where I was just training and not competing, so this is all new water to me.
“This ‘time off’ is allowing me to get right mentally. To really focus on my why and what drives me to keep going.”
For a Division I athlete like Cole, training during the offseason — or during unscheduled “time off” — is a requirement, not an option. But the training options are suddenly limited. Not only are Cole and other UNI athletes prohibited to train and practice with their respective teams/programs or have access to the school facilities to train on their own until the campus reopens sometime next month at the earliest, even most local gyms have shut down.
While at home, Cole is often seen training at the Charles City Family YMCA, which is closed through March.
Cole also does a lot of “road work” — running on the streets and trails — while in Charles City. But even that form of training would be nixed in the event of a “shelter-in-place” ruling — Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds held off on issuing such a ruling on Thursday.
Whatever happens in the uncertain future, Cole is committed to stay on course.
“Although I’m heartbroken about the season, it’s out of my control,” she said. “What I know I can control is my attitude about it and how I train these next six months. There’s so much fitness to be gained and I’m holding onto that. This just goes to show not all things go according to our plan, but it’s all on God’s time.
“My goals aren’t thrown out the window; they’re just put on the back burner.”