Ask any young athlete who has made the jump from high school to post-secondary athletics, and they’re likely to admit that the adjustment is a significant one.
That leap is made especially more challenging if the new school is an NCAA Div. 1 program in a different country.
Now, throw in a global pandemic, a cancelled season and – more recently – training adjustments resulting from air-quality issues due to rampant wildfires, and you’d be in the same boat as Jeremiah Mackie, the Earl Marriott Secondary grad who is adjusting to life at Gonzaga University.
The 18-year-old cross-country runner committed to the Spokane, Wash. school back in the spring – his older brother, Jaxon, is in his junior year at the school – and he has been south of the border since early August, training for a fall season that ultimately was cancelled, though there are ongoing discussions about a potential competitive season taking place in January, if COVID-19 protocols allow it.
However, the affable teenager isn’t letting any of that put a damper on his freshman season.
“It was a bit of an adjustment, but it hasn’t been too bad,” he said. “It was nice to get down here (a few weeks) before school started, so you can kind of adjust to everything.”
Mackie – who will also compete with Gonzaga’s track team – credited the team’s head coach for keeping everyone organized, motivated and on track with their training despite myriad challenges. Among other COVID-19-related adjustments, all the cross-country runners have been grouped together into five-person “training pods,” Mackie said.
“We’ve been able to get through all this COVID stuff OK. We just follow the rules we’ve been given and it’s working out pretty good so far.”
The biggest difference between his high-school running career and now – aside from having to convert his runs from kilometres into miles now that he’s in the U.S. – is the increased distances he’s running each week. While at Earl Marriott, Mackie said he routinely ran about 50 kilometres each week in order to stay in top shape. At Gonzaga, he’s logging more than double that – 80 miles a week (128 km).
The increase didn’t come as a shock, however – he knew what the expectations would be thanks to discussions with Jaxon, and spent much of the last six months at home in South Surrey gradually boosting his weekly routine.
“I was raising my miles all summer, because I knew I’d have to adjust to some harder workouts. It’s a big jump (to 80 miles a week), but it was nice to have my brother on the team, so I knew what I was going to be in for when I got here,” he said.
When it came time to commit to a school, Mackie admits he was fortunate that he got to make his official visit to Gonzaga just a few weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic closed the Canada-U.S. border. However, even if he hadn’t been able to go, he had set foot on campus before, when visiting his brother.
“There’s another freshman on our team now, and he wasn’t able to visit the school before he came here. I couldn’t imagine doing that, so I was very lucky,” he said.
Though he had a few options – in both Canada and the U.S. – the Gonzaga coaching staff and camaraderie amongst teammates tipped the scales in the decision-making process.
“I saw how close everyone on the team was with each other, helping each other, (and) the coach here, Pat Tyson, he’s a great coach and I think he’s a guy who can get the very best out of me. He’s grown this team to one that will most likely be at the national championships for cross-country next year. It’s a super tight group of guys and I didn’t think I could turn down the opportunity to run with them.”
Having his older brother there simply “sealed the deal,” he said.
Despite being teammates, the younger Mackie said he doesn’t see his brother all that much – they are in separate training groups – but he knows he’s not far away.
“I’m living in the dorms with the rest of the freshmen and sophomores, and he’s a junior so he’s living in a house off-campus with some other guys from the team, so in that way we’re a little separated,” he said.
“I don’t see him that often, so it’s kind of nice in that way because I can adjust on my own, do some stuff for myself and have the same university experience as (anybody else). But when I need help with something, I know I can give him a call or stop by his house.”
One important piece of brotherly advice Jaxon did give his younger sibling was simple: pace yourself.
“He told me to train smart and not try to kill it every single run,” Mackie said.
“There are going to be easy days, and there’s no reason to run those days fast when you know you have a hard workout planned for the next day, or you know that a 15K run is coming up on a Sunday.
“It’s just really important to take care of yourself, and that’s the one thing he really emphasized to me. Now, when I need to take it easy, I take it easy, and when it’s time to go hard, I’m ready.”