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Fairmont’s Chambers taking spring sports hiatus in stride

CLEARING HURDLES — Fairmont senior McKayla Chambers (left) clears a hurdle during regular-season track & field action at Bob Bonk Track in Fairmont last spring. Chambers continues to work out in case a portion of the track & field season can be salvaged in May and June. She’s also preparing to play soccer at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls next season. Fairmont’s Ellie Hernes (middle) and Brooklyn Meyer compete against Chambers. (Photo by Greg Abel/Sentinel Archives)

FAIRMONT — Go for a 4-mile run around Budd Lake, shower, finish her PSEO (postsecondary enrollment options) homework online and spend quality time with her family.

Like her approach to competing in high school soccer in the fall and track & field during the spring, Fairmont senior McKayla Chambers is handling the rigors of the ongoing 4-week statewide moratorium on athletics and academics in stride without missing a step.

While the future University of Wisconsin-River Falls soccer defender continues to keep in top cardiovascular shape via her at-home core workouts and long-distance jogs, the 2020 Cardinals’ track & field captain cannot replicate the on-track drills required to maintain the precision footwork needed to compete in her specialty — the hurdles.

“I’ve definitely worked hard at improving my technique in running the hurdles,” said Chambers, who qualified for the Section 2A Meet in the 100-meter high hurdles in 2019 on the heels of a bronze-medal Class AA showing at the Sentinel Relays. “I was looking forward to being able to three-step the whole race this spring and lower my times. I could do it for the first three or four hurdles last season, so my goal was to accomplish that for an entire hurdles race this season.”

Unfortunately for Chambers and her teammates, Fairmont’s first eight track & field meets will be wiped out by Minnesota’s statewide shutdown — created by the COVID-19 pandemic — through May 3.

“Right now, the odds don’t look good for us having a track season,” said Chambers. “If we don’t ever return to the track this spring, obviously I will miss running the hurdles, but I’ll also miss the social aspect of the sport. When you think about it, you only race for a minute or so and the rest of the time you’re getting to know your teammates as well as people from the other teams you’re competing against.

“Running hurdles on your own definitely isn’t the same as competing. Your adrenaline is pumping and you’ve got seven other runners to push you in a meet.”

While her final prep track season appears in jeopardy, Chambers knows first-hand that from adversity comes resiliency and strength if one is willing to work hard and maintain a positive attitude.

“I used to have ear infections growing up and had a lot of surgeries, but they left scar tissue and eventually, a hole in one of my ear drums. … I had a hearing aid in fourth grade, but I lost it too many times, so I stopped wearing one,” Chambers said with a chuckle.

While some people would consider her hearing loss as a deterrent, Chambers defines it as “the thing that makes me special.”

“When I tell people I have hearing loss, they sometimes don’t believe it. I look at it as a good conversation starter,” joked Chambers. “It doesn’t affect how I learn, play sports or live my life every day, so why let it have a negative impact on me.

“I’ve learned to make adaptations in both athletics and academics. In the classroom, I try to sit to the right side so that my left side — my good ear — is closest to the instructor. When I’m in big groups, it’s sometimes difficult to hear, so I try to be near whoever is speaking.”

And listen to every word and take it to heart is the quality that impressed Fairmont Area head girls soccer coach Matt Nielsen so much, that he penciled Chambers into his varsity roster as a freshman and never looked back.

“Her hearing loss has never been an issue for her when it comes to playing soccer or anything else,” said Nielsen. “Actually, it may have made her a better defender because her head’s always on a swivel, which leads to greater field vision overall.

“She’s a special player because she puts the team first and never takes any credit for any individual great plays she’s made for us through the years.”

Chambers and her Cardinal soccer teammates produced an incredible 34-7-3 record during the past three seasons, including back-to-back first-ever appearances in the Section 2A championship game in 2018 and 2019.

For now, Chambers will continue staying in shape in hopes of competing in a possible abbreviated prep track season and her upcoming freshman soccer campaign at River Falls, in addition to maintaining her academic success in preparing for a major in animal science on a pre-veterinarian track.

“I want to be a small-animal vet,” said Chambers. “I know it’s going to be tough from both an academic and athletic standpoint, but I’m willing to put in the work.”

Just another example of Chambers taking every day in stride.

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