Last fall, in a pre-pandemic world, hundreds of athletes descended onto Abbotsford’s Clearbrook Park for the B.C. High School Cross Country Championships. This year, with all in-person competitions cancelled, a virtual run will be held. (John Morrow/Abbotsford News photo)

Last fall, in a pre-pandemic world, hundreds of athletes descended onto Abbotsford’s Clearbrook Park for the B.C. High School Cross Country Championships. This year, with all in-person competitions cancelled, a virtual run will be held. (John Morrow/Abbotsford News photo)

South Surrey runners prepare for ‘virtual’ Pandemic Challenge

Two-week event organized by BC School Sports aims to keep student-athletes active

Traditional, in-person athletic competitions – where competitors are lined up next to, or across from, one another – may still be a pipe dream amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but high-school cross-country runners will still get an opportunity to race this month – virtually, at least.

Beginning Oct. 21 and running for two weeks, BC School Sports – the organizing body for high-school sports across the province – will host the Virtual Cross-Country Pandemic Challenge, which invites runners in Grades 8-12 to run either three- or 5.5.-kilometre distances on their own, then submit their best time to their school’s coach by Nov. 4. Each school will determine an appropriate course for each distance, a BCSS notice states.

Runners are allowed to run an unlimited number of times, and “various prizes and recognition to the top athletes” will be handed out at the conclusion of the event.

Athletes from South Surrey high schools are expected to take part in the provincewide event. Elgin Park Secondary, for example, is expected to have many of its 20-plus cross-country runners participate, athletic director Christoper Ellett told Peace Arch News, while Earl Marriott Secondary athletic director Taylor Clift told PAN by email last week that “we are looking to get involved in that.” EMS cross-country coach Ally Ginther added that she was still unsure on an exact number of participants, as team practices only began this week.

“Our coaches are eager to get our student-athletes back participating so we are extremely lucky and grateful to have them and excited to have our school a little more vibrant with these program offerings,” Clift said.

In a notice explaining the Pandemic Challenge event, the BCSS said it was created “to help student-athletes across the province stay active during these unprecedented times.”

In a normal year, the high school cross-country season would be in full swing by now – with Crescent Park in South Surrey a frequent location for both city-wide and regional events. The 2020 provincial championships are also, as expected, cancelled.

“Although we can’t see you in person at what would have been the 2020 BCSS Cross Country Provincial Championships, BC School Sports still wants to see student-athletes active and thriving both in and out of the classroom,” the announcement reads.

As per version 2.0 of the BCSS Return to School Sport Plan, B.C. schools are permitted to host virtual “school sport opportunities” and are encouraged to find innovative ways ways to give athletes “the closest thing to friendly competition while staying within the intra-school based model.”

Last year, cross-country provincial championships were held at Clearbrook Park in Abbotsford. Many Surrey runners landed on the podium and in the top 10, led by Fleetwood Park’s Jaiveer Tiwana, who won the senior boys race, while former Ocean Athletics runner Madelyn Bonikowsky – who now lives in Nelson – won the senior girls race.

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