By David Fong
TROY — The magnitude of the moment got to Kurt Snyder.
It got to his breakfast, too.
More than 20 years ago, Snyder — now the Troy girls track and field team’s coach — was a starstruck sophomore at Fremont Ross High School, preparing to compete in his first Ohio state track and field meet in the 4×800 relay.
“That was back when the state meet was still in the ‘Horseshoe’ (Ohio Stadium),” Snyder said. “I remember walking up into the stands and seeing the crowd that was there. Then I walked back down and started puking. From that point on, I had to do that before every race I ran. I didn’t feel right if I didn’t do it. When I did that, I knew I was ready.”
Today, the Troy track and field teams will begin competition at the two-day Ohio High School Athletic Association state track and field meet in Columbus. The event has since moved from Ohio Stadium to Jesse Owens Stadium — and Snyder has learned to keep his breakfast where it belongs — but there still will be plenty of Trojans going through pre-race rituals, routines and practicing their own superstitions before they compete.
“I think every kid finds their own thing they do,” Snyder said. “They have to find something that keeps them from stressing out and lets them focus. Track is one of those sports where, after the meet starts, you may have to wait a few hours before your event starts. If you get a weather delay, you may have to wait an extra couple of hours. I think having routines helps get kids prepared.”
For many Troy athletes, preparing for their event involves eating certain types of foods — some of which can be very specific.
Troy freshman Lenea Browder said she eats a Rice Krispy treat before she throws the discus. Sprinter Ashley Barr always eats a peanut butter Cliff Bar and pretzels exactly two hours before she begins warming up. Senior Caitlyn Cusick, an alternate on Troy’s 4×200 relay team, likes a homemade turkey wrap and pretzels roughly 90 minutes before she runs. Senior Kayla Hemm, also an alternate on the 4×200 relay team, enjoys a granola bar and banana before she runs.
Junior Camryn Moeller, a member of the state-bound 4×200 relay team, has a pre-race meal that bypasses routine and goes straight to superstitious.
“I always eat Panera on meet days,” she said. “I eat my tomato soup first and dip my roll into it and then eat that. Then I eat my Greek salad.”
Several of the Trojans said they wear specific items of clothing for good luck. While there’s no scientific proof a certain shirt of pair of socks can help an athlete perform better, most coaches, athletes and even mental health professionals agree that if a certain item of clothing can put an athlete in the right mindset, the psychological edge can translate into results on the track.
Boys shot putter Travis Hall said he always wears one of three shirts and will put a dollar bill in his sock for good luck. Barr — who will compete in both the 400 and 4×200 relay at state — said she doesn’t put on her uniform until right before her race and always wears her pink shin sleeves. Celina Courts, also a member of the 4×200 relay team, always wears red lipstick on race days.
“For every meet, I wear my Notre Dame sports bra and my red, white and blue Liberty Bell socks,” Trojan shot putter Alaura Holycross said.
Nearly every Trojan going to state this year listen to music as a part of their pre-event routine. Moeller always listens to the song “Believer” by Imagine Dragons. Sophomore Annah Stanley, one of Moeller’s teammates on the 4×200 relay, has an entire multi-media routine queued up on race days.
“Something I do is watch Nike hype videos on the way to meets,” Stanley said. “I feel they encourage me and make me want to run at my best. When I warm up, I put my Beats in and put my music loud enough so I feel like it’s just me and the track. I like to be in a good mindset before I run so I can get in my zone.”
Troy junior Morgan Gigandet — a two-time state placer in the 3,200 who will be competing in that event again this year — takes a very cerebral approach in preparing for a race.
“I often make sure that I run through my race in my head, whether it is memorizing times or race strategies,” she said. “I do not like going crazy the day of a race because I feel like screaming and moving around would waste my energy and I can not afford to do that. The hours before a race I often try to stay cool, calm, and collected to prevent any pre-race jitters I may have. I always try to find positive things about the race day and the race itself because I feel like that is the only way you can have a good race.”
Snyder said pre-event routines don’t always have to be deeply involved — and sometimes the smallest things can help a competitor get mentally focused before an event. He remembers Troy pole vault coach Herb Hartman giving vaulters Amanda Rhoades and Katie DeVault — both state qualifiers in 2006 — scented candles to smell before every race to help calm their nerves.
“When he went to watch them compete in college, they were still doing it,” Snyder said. “They were still pulling the candles out of their bags and smelling them before they vaulted. I thought that was pretty neat.”
Of course, there are some competitors who appeal to a higher power before every race. Browder said she prays when she wakes up the morning of meets and then again right before she competes.
“I pray before every meet,” Barr said.
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong