Jamestown's Meghan Ford in a way is lucky.
As the growing uncertainty mounts over whether or not the high school junior will be able to compete in track and field this spring, Ford is still able to lace up her shoes, step outside and pretend the world is normal.
Some days her passion will carry her as far as 11 miles alone, training that’s pushed Ford to her physical limits long before COVID-19 made social distancing a household phrase.
“Sometimes I’ll listen to music,” Ford said. “Sometimes I’ll just kinda zone out.
“It’s a good time for me to just clear my mind for the day.”
Already a three-time Class A outdoor track and field state champion and holder of six Jamestown High School track records, the soft-spoken teenager has a chance at becoming only the third girl in North Dakota history to win the outdoor 1,600-meter state title four times before graduating.
But for that to happen, the 2020 high school outdoor track season must take place. The North Dakota High School Activities Association has suspended all spring sports indefinitely in conjunction with the state’s shuttering of all K-12 schools until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re kinda in limbo right now and it’s seeming more and more remote as each day passes,” said JHS boys track and field coach Ken Gardner, who has coached Ford to back-to-back Class A cross country state championships.
Ford ranks inside the state’s all-time top 10 in the outdoor 800, 1,600 and 3,200, and she’s hoping to make a run at a few state records before she’s finished in 2021. Her school record of 10:38.12 in the 3,200 is just 5.25 seconds behind the overall state mark of 10:32.86 set by Grand Forks Central’s Karly Ackley at the 2016 state meet.
Ford broke Jamestown’s indoor 3,200 record as an eighth-grader, surpassing JHS assistant coach Jessica Gardner. Gardner was an NCAA Division II All-American at North Dakota in both cross country and track, and still holds UND records in the outdoor 10K and indoor 5K.
“In seventh grade, I remember winter training after my first cross country season … we were talking about being able to possibly beat it by the time I graduated,” recalled Ford, who has a current PR of 10:46.09 in the indoor 3,200. “I ended up breaking it my eighth-grade season. It’s kinda funny to think about now.”
More records followed. Ford also owns the school’s indoor marks in the 800 (2:16.52) and 1,600 (4:59.89), as well as the outdoor marks in the 800 (2:14.07) and 1,600 (4:54.11).
She has some work to do in order to run down the state’s best outdoor 1,600 of 4:44.44 set by Dickinson’s Becki Wells in 1993. But since her seventh-grade state meet in 2016, Ford has shaved a whopping 1:02.97 off her two-mile run and 32.02 seconds off her mile.
“One of her goals (this season) was to break a state record,” said JHS girls track and field coach Mike Dietz “Not only school records, but she wanted to be one of the best distance runners of all time in this state, and now a wrench has been thrown into that.
“It’s not easy.”
Obviously, Ford will keep training and hopefully has many more high school races left to run. But to lose a shot at four state titles in the outdoor 1,600 would rob her from joining an elite group.
Along with Wells, only Class B’s Lindsay Anderson has won the girls' outdoor mile four or more times. Anderson, now Lindsay Solheim, never lost a state 1,600-meter race for Benson County, rifling off six state titles between 2003-08.
“I’m sure I would be disappointed,” said Solheim, who currently resides in Brainerd, Minnesota, after finishing a highly decorated college running career at UND in 2013. “But it’s out of your control, so that would help my feelings a little bit. But definitely still disappointing, especially when she has a chance to win four times.”
Solheim, an 11-time state champ in high school and UND’s record holder in the women’s outdoor 5K, said she’d try to keep her focus sharp.
“I would just try to stay as positive as you can because you never know,” Solheim said. “I would keep training, doing my best, and know that your hard work will still pay off whether it’s this season or next season.”
Ford will more than likely heed that advice. Commitment is one of the driving motivators behind her enjoyment for distance running, something she learned while being introduced to the sport by her older brother, Aaron, as she was entering middle school.
Along with being Class A’s two-time defending 1,600-meter champion, Ford is the defending two-mile champ and is hoping to possibly breakthrough with a state title in the 800 after placing inside the top four in each of the past two seasons.
In December, Ford earned All-American status by finishing 21st in the 5K Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Oregon.
“Right when I started I just fell in love with it,” Ford said. “I just really enjoyed the dedication it requires and being able to put all of my heart into it.”
The coaches are hoping for the best. Jamestown High School has approximately 80 boys and girls out for track and field this spring, students who are now attending school online from home and are training on their own.
But as isolating as distance running can be, the North Dakota high school state track and field meet is anything but. Last year’s state meet at Bismarck’s MDU Resources Community Bowl brought together 1,379 student-athletes alone.
“As a coach, you start worrying about next year, too,” Dietz said. “You’re always recruiting and trying to get kids out for your sport. How’s this going to affect next year and the future? You think about the immediate part also, which is our seniors and what they’re going through now. Not just track, but school and everything else.”
With three potential state titles within grasp this spring, Ford is full-steam ahead. The 2020 state track and field meet in Bismarck remains on the schedule for May 22-23.
“Just pretend like it’s gonna happen,” Ford said. “Train like I have state coming up.”