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Mar. 31—AUBURN — It's been a cruel 12 months.
Last March, Sarah Brown and the rest of the St. Dominic Academy outdoor track and field team were told that their season was going to be delayed at least a month because of the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Then, in April, the Maine Principals' Association decided to cancel the spring season altogether.
Sunday, on the eve of a long-awaited preseason for outdoor track, Brown found herself with a strained hamstring.
"I don't know how it happened, it just started hurting," Brown said. "So hopefully it will be something that can be taken care of quickly."
Brown was at practice Tuesday, but mostly as an observer.
"But even, just with that, like just being here and being in the environment of it, that's really great. And I can't wait to compete and have those meets that we're supposed to have," she said.
Saints head coach Dan Campbell said the return of track practices was refreshing and provided a sense of normalcy.
"It seems like we're making our way back to a sense of community, and we're not separating anymore," he said. "For me, it's not about the sport itself, it's about what it offers the kids, and what it offers the community. So it's all good."
Campbell was able to offer a trio of his runners, including Brown, some sense of community and competition when the indoor track season was also canceled because of the pandemic. The Saints started a Nordic ski team, with Campbell as the coach, to fill the void.
"Nordic is my sport," Campbell said. "It lightened my heart, knowing that we could do it. We were outside, which gave us an opportunity different than being inside. And the school supported that, financially as well as athletically, and you can't ask for anything better than that. The school said, 'Hey, do you want to do this?' I said, 'Yeah, absolutely I do, even if we have three kids. I don't care.' And that's what we did."
Brown and fellow seniors Liam Levasseur and Owen Mitchell used their new winter season as a way to stay active and prepare for a hoped-for outdoor season.
Levasseur said he was "a little bit" skeptical of taking part in Nordic skiing, "but I like to try new things, I like making new experiences, so I was definitely looking forward, especially knowing that indoor track, in all honesty, was probably going to get canceled."
Levasseur said he has a background in hockey, so he thought that he could find some similarities between ice skating and skate skiing. He also had the familiarity of being coached by Campbell, who also is the Saints' cross country coach.
"It was fantastic. He's an amazing coach. I love every season with him," Levasseur said. "I've known him for years, and he's a phenomenal coach, and he's one of my friends, so having him for another season was priceless. I'm so grateful that he took the time to be able to coach us for another season."
Brown said she used to cross-country ski when she was younger, but had to learn it again to be competitive. She said it strengthened her for running this spring.
"It was awesome. Because it's something that (Campbell) really loves doing, and I did it with two other teammates, and we were able just to have a lot of fun with it and not take it too seriously, but still work really hard with it," she said. "It was great."
Levasseur said he's still waiting to see how much the cross-training between skiing and running will translate to his final high school outdoor track season, but it did allow him to keep his competitive fires burning. Those needed an outlet after the cross country season in the fall came to a sudden end just before the state championships. Levasseur was a top contender for the Class C crown.
"It definitely lit a fire under me. I was really motivated," Levasseur said. "If I didn't get the opportunity to compete in states for cross country, I'm really looking forward and keeping my fingers crossed that I get to compete in outdoor and hopefully win states."
Campbell said Levasseur got "robbed" by how his cross country season ended.
"But the conference recognized him. And he didn't get robbed by the conference, he just got robbed by circumstances beyond his control," Campbell said. "For Liam, and he's trained hard all through the winter, knowing and hoping that we were going to have an outdoor season. And it looks like we are by everything and the way it stands right now, and he's excited to show his stuff. And he wants to make a big splash."
Levasseur should be one of the runners to beat in the 2-mile run in Class C. And he'll be pushed in practice throughout the spring by Mitchell, who was traversing the St. Dom's parking lot with Levasseur during practice Tuesday.
Brown also has goals she wants to accomplish this season, according to Campbell, including lowering her personal-best time in her signature 800-meter run.
"(Sarah and Liam) are both very dedicated kids," Campbell said. "I could tell them to run 20 miles today and they would run 20 miles today. They'll do whatever it takes to get that next level."
They will both be competing at the next level — Brown at Assumption University, Levasseur at Husson University.
But first, they have one more season of wearing black-and-white St. Dom's uniforms.
"I am really thankful, and I'm definitely going to make the most of it," Brown said. "I mean, it just makes me want it all the more because I didn't have it for so long, so it's just going to make me work harder and really do everything I can before I graduate."