Board games, life’s questions and running: looking behind and beyond

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Sophia Pearson

Track and field runners at Chico State home meet earlier this season

The sun peered through the clouds, but eventually gave way to clear skies. The stage now brighter for the Chico State seniors on the track and field team. Softball and baseball played across the parking lot and rugby attracted a few eyes behind the stadium. 

In their last home meet of the season, track was taking full advantage of the favorable weather to put on a show. 

In 14 meets over the course of this season only two were hosted by Chico State, making it more difficult for there to be hometown fans in attendance, cheering on those in a Wildcat singlet. 

For senior Kirsten Percel, injuries concluded her season early. Not the kind of year any athlete can prepare for, but there is always a light to every misfortune. 

“I was unfortunately injured at my last track meet as a senior but I was able to cheer on all my other teammates from Chico and not have to travel far which was a win,” Percel said. “I also got to be celebrated as a senior during our ceremony.” 

During her time at Chico State, Percel had a multitude of those good times, looking back positively on what took place off the track. From being able to room with her teammates, which included plenty of baking and cooking together, as well as teammates coming over for game night, they had their fair share of great team-bonding exercises. 

As Percel’s competitive track career comes to an end it is all that she knows, ensuring the active lifestyle will remain. 

“I think I will always be a runner, it’s something I’ve been doing my whole life and something I really enjoy as a hobby,” Percel said. “I want to focus my career around being active, I would like to have a job where I can teach people about having a healthy, active lifestyle.”

Perspective is the name of the game. For senior distance runner Matt Herrera, it has to be. A routine is key for distance runners. 

For Herrera, the excitement, and nerves of closing out his final season are glaringly present. Although, Herrera said “focus” was important, focusing on the here and the now. 

“For focusing on each task at hand in my last season I’ve tried to just continue what I’ve done since my first year on the team,” Herrera said. “I try to keep things in perspective and focus on running one week or race at a time, a lot of running is sticking with normal routines and habits.” 

Like Percel, running will continue being an important part of Herrera’s life, but he is looking forward to taking some time off and letting life come to pass as it may. Time off from competition of course, not running. That’s what he does. 

“Knowing me I’ll always run because I enjoy it but competition in the future is very unclear,” Herrera said. “I think in time, the question will answer itself.”

While he isn’t a graduating senior like his fellow teammates, Jack Emanuel is returning for his fifth and final season. 

Maybe it’s the runner in Emanuel, but even his favorite memories with the team outside of actual competition still center around the exhausting, yet satisfying exercise of running. 

More accurately, long runs. 

“The things I’ll remember most are the 6 a.m. practices, the difficult workouts, the Sunday 16-mile-long runs and it was all with my closest friends,” Emanuel said. “Knowing that the only people that understand what it takes to be great in our sport and sharing that experience with my teammates is a feeling I’ll never let go of.” 

Watching his teammates be honored at their last track meet brought on a great deal of emotions for Emanuel. His expected return in the fall mirrors his appreciation for those who came back when they didn’t have to. 

“They could’ve easily packed up and moved on with life, but they chose to stay and contribute to a bigger cause when the running program needed them most,” Emanuel said. 

That’s exactly what Emanuel is emulating, one more push to try and continue the program’s long-standing success. 

The theme for his final season seems to boil down to valuing every moment, the highs and the lows — and he has had plenty of both. 

“I plan on taking full advantage of my last year in a Chico jersey. I’ve felt immense ups and downs during my career at Chico,” Emanuel said. “From the passing of a teammate, to my coach being hit by a car, the floods, the Camp Fire and COVID. 

“I’ve learned that no matter what the highs always outweigh the lows, He said.” 

If there is one person Emanuel can thank for the good times it would be Matt Herrera. The graduating senior who convinced him to return to the team. 

Mason Tovani can be reached at [email protected]