Busiwa Asinga walks to a start line carrying the anticipation of the crowd on her shoulders.
The blue rubber underneath her track spikes echoes stories from the greats that came before. Laborious hours spent by selfless individuals in order to create an atmosphere filled with joy and excitement have all come down to this one eventful week. And as the aroma of popcorn and hotdogs fills the stands, spectators grab their loved ones and watch as the Drake Relays commence.
April 27, 2022 will mark the kickoff of more than a century-old track and field event, the Drake Relays. With COVID-19 effectively aiding in the cancellation of Drake Relays in 2020 as well as pandemic safety precautions limiting attendees in 2021, junior hurdler Asinga awaits a normal Relays competition experience.
“I’m excited for all these really good schools to come, but with that comes a lot of insecurities. These big schools like University of Kentucky and USC have really good hurdlers. It’s easy to think that I’m not good enough,” Asinga said. “I guess it’s just realizing that we’re all going to be on the same track, and we all trained really hard to be here. Those who do well have been preparing, and it’s going to show. I feel like it’s just getting out of my head.”
Standout performances at the Missouri Valley Conference Indoor Championships from Drake track and field athletes like Asinga foreshadow the success of this year’s Relays. Head coach Asha Gibson and assistant sprint coach Mike Cunningham don’t fret from healthy competition. Both collaborate to ensure the overall well-being and success of the team.
“I look at every kid that I’ve ever coached as one of my own … I would never put anybody in a situation that they weren’t 100 percent prepared for … I just want everybody to do the very best that they can,” Cunningham said.
As they head into Relays week, a mighty spirit is presented in the determination of the Bulldogs. A combined coaching experience of 47 years allows Coaches Gibson and Cunningham to prepare accordingly for an event like no other.
“We are here to compete and not just host Relays,” Gibson said. “I think that’s where we start to continue to revisit the tradition of it, when people come back and try to protect their titles.”
Placing first in the 400-meter-hurdles in last year’s Relays, Asinga practices nailing steps in between hurdles to reclaim the gold.
Even on hard days, Asinga does not quit on herself; she instead instills a positive mindset to power through the finish.
“I’m not going to let my mood be changed or let certain things bring me down. I’m going to work really hard,” Asinga said. “On the start line I tell myself, ‘I’m going to go kill it, I’m going to do a good job.’ Then, I go and run my own race.”
Whether it’s by showing up to two-hour practices and liftings, staying on top of homework, repeating positive mantras or being a team player, the Drake track and field team prepares for the Relays knowing that any given day could be their time to shine.
Sophomore long sprinter Bria Rhodes has conditioned this thinking into her everyday approach. Her goal being to place in an individual event at this year’s Drake Relays.
“I run because it makes me feel strong,” Rhodes said. “It just shows me I can do things my mind didn’t think I could. When my body’s strong, mentally I can do anything that I set out to conquer in life.”
Collegiate athletes compete April 28 through April 30. A combination of distance, sprint and field events will be displayed in Drake’s very own blue oval.