Right now, the COVID-19 conversation is everywhere. From the political field to the sports arenas, there’s no place or no one safe from its verbal clutches.
The virus has destroyed spring sports for the 2020 season along with the hopes for many athletes looking for competition. While that sort of atmosphere has understandably put many athletes in a negative mindset, you can find anything but such a mindset residing within Waukee track and field star Jessica Caraway. For the senior track star, the sport of track and field has run through her veins and while her senior season included just a couple indoor meets, she’s not letting it get to her.
“It is unfortunate that I don’t have a senior season but I won’t let it define me,” said Caraway. “I’m very happy with what my teammates and I accomplished the last few years and those memories will always stay with me.”
That has seemingly been the mindset for Caraway ever since she arrived in Waukee. The Kansas product has been as patient as she has been talented and she’s no stranger to waiting for the next step. That included dating back to her origins for the love of the sport itself.
“Back in Kansas, track didn’t start until seventh grade and I was so excited to get started that next year,” said Caraway. “Then I moved here (Waukee) in seventh grade but track didn’t start until eighth grade so I had to wait another year.”
The resilient Caraway didn’t let that stop her from engaging in the sport of track and field. She joined up with the Waukee Track Club shortly after arriving in Waukee where she mentioned really getting indoctrinated with the sport itself.
“The Waukee Track Club is where I tried out all the different events and started to find what fit me the best,” said Caraway. “It was a good start and I’m really glad I joined the Waukee Track Club.”
From there, like most things, Caraway’s love for the sport really came to light once she hit the high school scene. The intensity may have increased, but that’s exactly what pulled Caraway even more into the track and field world.
“I really fell in love with it (track and field) when I reached high school,” said Caraway. “There were more intense workouts and higher stakes of competition in high school and I knew that’s where I wanted to be. Everything just grew from there.”
Diving right into the intense workouts and higher stakes competition was a challenge well met for Caraway. As she climbed the high school ladder, Caraway always found a way to improve her times and from that, accolades and honors found her easily. While awards are nice, they’ve never been what has driven the senior star so while the cancellation of her final season hurts, it’s nowhere close to the end of the world.
“I’ve always been motivated by my parents, teammates, coaches and just improving my times,” said Caraway.
Caraway has seemingly found motivation through just the act of running itself, an act that began early on.
“My father ran track for a couple of years when he was in high school,” began Caraway. “He’s always been a runner and I’ve been interested in running from that.”
From those beginnings have come plenty of success including a state meet record that she shared with three other members of a 4x800 during her freshman year. Individually, the successes have been just as potent. Such success is often-times linked to upperclassmen years only but for Caraway, she’s always been able to handle the competitive atmosphere ever since she entered the high school as head coach Matt Pries mentioned.
“Jessica has a unique ability to remain very calm even in high-pressure situations,” began Pries. “She showed that right away as a freshman when she ran a leg on the 4x800 state championship relay. Her work ethic is outstanding; she is diligent about taking care of her body. As she’s grown, her personality has blossomed, and it’s been neat to see her joyful spirit and competitive drive combine to make her one of Waukee’s best ever.”
Every athlete has an event they are strongest in, but what has set Caraway apart from others is the ability to tackle challenges that haven’t been as successful to her in the past and succeeding.
“The 400 (meter run) is always my favorite event to run but the one I’ve constantly been working towards is the 800 meters,” began Caraway. “It’s been a tough course, a love-hate relationship. The 400 may be more fun for me but the 800 is more gratifying.”
All that work in the 800 has cultivated in a personal-best mark of 2:14 this past season for Caraway. It also cultivated in a mark of 59.15 seconds in the 400-meter dash which also ranked as the best mark across the entire Waukee girls track team.
Now, with her senior high school season scrapped, it’s a focus on her collegiate future that dominates most of the conversation. The senior will be heading back to the state of her birth to compete at the next level at Kansas State University. She herself has a strong future ahead and while her senior high school season coming to a close early is unfortunate, Caraway herself mentioned that it’s the juniors that she is worried about more.
“Junior year is a great time for athletes to get noticed by colleges and that’s not happening for the juniors now,” said Caraway. “I know my junior year was important for me.”
Caraway will finalize her senior year at Waukee High School amongst a senior track and field class that has helped earn 44 indoor and outdoor top ten finishes, 19 state meet medals, five state championship events, and three team state titles.