We’ve all heard the song — probably over and over again.
In Disney’s “Frozen,” Princess Elsa sings, “Let It Go” with the famous line: “The cold never bothered me anyway.”
Well, for local CHSAA track runners, that lyric has become a new mantra. That’s because the Catholic League has adopted outdoor “Polar Bear” track meets amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Freezing cold winters are merely par for the course in the Northeast, yet this winter has been particularly chilly with its fair share of multi-inch snowstorms. Despite the cold temperatures, these meets have allowed student-athletes to compete safely among their peers.
Polar Bear meets were actually a regular winter track activity back in the day. These days though, the local indoor venues — including the 168th Street Armory in Manhattan, the Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex on Staten Island, and St. Anthony’s H.S. in Huntington, L.I. — provide state-of-the-art facilities for indoor meets featuring large numbers of competitors and fans.
Of course, “large numbers” during the pandemic must be avoided given social distancing guidance. Furthermore, the Armory — usually home to several renowned indoor meets — is currently being used as a COVID-19 vaccination site.
Meanwhile, only a specific number of athletes may compete indoors at Ocean Breeze at any given time, so the Polar Bear meets to ensure that more competitors have the chance to run — a staple of CHSAA play.
Following a successful fall cross-country season, a handful of Polar Bear meets have taken place this winter on Randall’s Island and at Iona Prep, the Bronx. The CHSAA had been holding committee meetings since June to start planning for the move outside.
“The kids just want to run and compete,” said Archbishop Molloy H.S., Briarwood, head girls’ varsity track coach and GCHSAA track chairman A.J. Power. “They just want a little bit of normal, as close to normal as they can get.”
Even though the events occur outdoors, safety is still a top priority. For shorter races, runners are required to wear a face-covering at all times. For longer races, the runners must cover their faces at the start line and again at the finish line. Once a runner finishes competing, they immediately go home to avoid overcrowding.
In colder temperatures, preparation becomes that much more critical. Getting and staying loose is undoubtedly a challenge in frigid conditions.
“We had some outdoor meets last season on some chilly days but nothing like this,” said Archbishop Molloy junior Cade Jaipaul. “I warm up for way longer than I typically do because it’s so cold outside.”
At this point, though, student-athletes are simply grateful that they’ve been able to compete this season, given the circumstances.
“It’s a whole new experience for me,” said Archbishop Molloy junior Julia Brophy. “I didn’t really know what to expect, but it’s actually like running a race, just a little colder.
“I’m trying to make the best of them because I don’t know if something like last year will happen and the whole season will get canceled.”
Regardless of what’s going on around them, these CHSAA runners have been able to “Let It Go” and focus on their races, which is exactly the sense of normalcy they’ve longed for.
Since they’re actually able to play their sport, the cold never bothered them anyway.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.