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What is normal?
That’s a question that has been asked since humans could ask questions, and the answer varies from person to person.
What is your normal? That’s a question we’ve asked ourselves more and more over the last 13 months.
For me, normal is things like hugging family and friends without fear of getting them sick or getting sick myself. But it’s also witnessing sporting events I enjoy, things like football in the fall, NCAA wrestling in March and the Drake Relays in April.
A lot of that has returned since the pandemic turned our world inside out — or rather outside in — but it hasn’t been completely “normal.” There was no football from inside a stadium for me, no trip with my son to the NCAA wrestling tournament.
But later this week, one of my favorite events returns after taking a year off — the Drake Relays in Des Moines.
That feels normal. But, alas, that too will have to be tagged with the dreaded “new normal.”
The Drake Relays begin Thursday and end Saturday. That’s normal. But the schedule is going to be vastly different from the last 110 years.
The decision to hold this year’s event came after a “great deal of consternation,” Drake Relays director Blake Boldon said recently.
He had to make many adjustments, not only to the schedule but how to keep athletes separated and safe, how to abide by the differing rules within each collegiate conference, each NCAA division, each athletic organization.
And, of course, he had to limit the number of fans allowed into Drake Stadium.
“It’s a challenging time,“ Bolden said. ”... but it’s going to be very exciting.
“It’s good that it can happen.”
We have to celebrate these events as they come back on the schedule, as things slowly return to “normal.”
This year’s Relays will showcase the high school athletes on Thursday only with events ranging from the 3,000- and 3,200-meter runs to the 400 relay. Qualified athletes also will compete in the high jump, discus, shot put and long jump.
But the schedule isn’t the only difference in this division, which had high school events spread over three days. Because the NCAA extended its recruiting “dead period” until the end of May, no college coaches, athletes or administrators are allowed in Drake Stadium when the preps compete.
Not even Boldon.
“The director of the Drake Relays can’t be involved with the Drake Relays high school event,” he said. “I will not be in attendance (Thursday) until the Distance Carnival.”
Carolyne Hill, a retired administrator, will be the “director for a day.”
University division athletes will participate in the “Distance Carnival” before giving way to college division athletes on Friday morning. Athletes from Coe, Cornell, Mount Mercy, Luther, Wartburg and other “small-college” programs will compete on their own against their own, instead of with university division athletes.
Those university athletes take center stage Friday afternoon.
Saturday will follow the same format — college athletes in the morning, university in the afternoon — with 10 “journey to gold” special invitational events sprinkled in, things like four hurdling events, men’s and women’s 1,500s and field events like the pole vault.
All that feels pretty “normal.”
“We’re able to have many of these traditions return,” Boldon said. “Things will feel and look differently, but one thing that will not is the competition.”
Like a lot of lessons learned during the pandemic, some of these changes are good. But some will be odd, at best.
Things like high school athletes rubbing shoulders with Olympians, hanging out in the field house waiting for their events, stepping on the track or into the shot put circle right before or after someone set a world best.
Boldon said some things learned this weekend could become permanent — or not.
“The lessons learned that can reshape the Drake Relays probably start in May, after we’ve had a chance to catch our breath,” he said.
Some things won’t change, including those special moments between preps and elites.
“I would be hesitant to take that away,” Boldon said.
Boldon — and many others — are just thrilled to have a track and field meet on the blue oval in April.
“It really will be a competition for the ages,” he said.
And when will it feel normal?
“I think it will feel normal when we get back to a world when the weather is our biggest concern,” Boldon said.
Wouldn’t that be great?
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