Oh my, how quickly things can change.
Two weeks ago the Payne brothers — Isaiah and Noah — were looking forward to the start of their outdoor track and field season at Seattle University. The two former Seabury Hall standouts were recently reunited in the Northwest after dominating the Maui Interscholastic League sprint scene the past three years.
Their plan to break Seattle’s record in the 4×100 relay looked promising, and head track coach Kelly Sullivan was eager to unleash Payne on the competition at the first outdoor meet of the 2020 season, the Doris Heritage Invitational at West Seattle Stadium.
“We were going to start with Payne and finish with Payne,” said Sullivan, who had freshman Noah leading off and sophomore Isaiah in the anchor position. “The plan was to bring the Payne.”
But one day after arriving home for spring break, the brothers from Kula were told the upcoming track and field season had been canceled due to coronavirus concerns and that the remaining academic year would take place via online instruction.
Practice restrictions for the Seattle track team had already been put in place by the time they left for vacation.
“It really is hard to believe,” said Isaiah Payne before boarding a flight bound for Maui on March 14. “We had a team meeting, and basically they said we can’t practice until March 30: ‘You guys are free to do whatever you want, but expect to be back by March 30.’”
At that point the Western Athletic Conference outdoor track and field championships had not yet been canceled.
SOON after leaving Seattle, on a stopover in Phoenix, Isaiah received a text from his dorm roommate notifying him that students living on campus had until April 4 to check out.
“I was like, ‘Oh no.’”
The following day, the NCAA announced its commitment to “protect the health and safety of college athletes” and canceled all remaining winter and spring NCAA championships and related events, including the March Madness men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.
“A lot has gone on in the last three weeks,” Sullivan explained. “Seattle became the focal point from the very beginning because there’s a care facility in Kirkland, Wash., which is one of the towns right outside of Seattle, where the first coronavirus was said to be discovered. Not only illnesses, but a number of deaths came out of this facility. …
“Our kids were pretty much aware that something was going to happen, but they didn’t know to what expect at that time. And things just snowballed from there.”
The Paynes’ plan to break the 4×100 relay record and test their speed individually in the 100- and 200-meter outdoor sprints are now on hold.
“Yeah, it’s unfortunate; we are going to have to wait another year for that,” Isaiah said of attacking the relay record, set last year at 41.51 seconds.
His confident younger sibling remarked, “Oh, I think we would have definitely broken the school record.”
Sullivan said the team has depth in the sprints.
“All their teammates are young, and the two other runners we had planned to run are all coming back for the next few years, so we have a lot of potential in that group.”
SULLIVAN, now in his third year of coaching at Seattle after 13 years heading the cross-country and track programs at Oregon State, said that although the athletes may be discouraged by the recent turn of events, they should make the most of it.
“They have a window of opportunity that is very rare, so they have to embrace it,” he said. “They’ll be at home, they will do their classes online, they are going to have less stress as far as day-to-day and there’re going to be fewer distractions — and they are going to be able to do that for five to six months.
“And like I told them, the only other time you may get this opportunity is when you retire.”
The NCAA plans to give all winter and spring athletes an added year of eligibility.
Isaiah, 20, is coming off a productive indoor season that saw him post a personal best of 6.95 seconds in the 60-meter dash and a season-best 22.07 in the 200.
The 6-foot-1-inch, 166-pound sophomore was named the school’s Track and Field Male Freshman of the Year in 2019. He was also named Academic All-WAC. Isaiah finished 10th in the conference outdoors in the 200 with a personal best of 21.65. His best time of 10.72 in the 100 was good for fifth place in the Oregon State High-Performance meet.
A THREE-TIME Maui Interscholastic League Division II Basketball Player of the Year, he first made his mark in the sport of track and field at the ripe age of 12, when his family was living in Edmonton, Alberta, and he won the 100-meter race at the prestigious Hershey National Championships in 13.39 seconds.
After visiting Maui regularly, his parents, Sherwin and Rebecca Payne, decided to move their two sons to the Valley Isle in 2014, when Isaiah was an incoming freshman at Seabury Hall. Warm weather and Maui’s charms served as their motivation.
Between Isaiah and Noah, the two claimed the 100- and 200-meter titles in the MIL championships the past three years. Isaiah won in 2017 and 2018 with personal bests of 10.81 in the 100 and 21.82 in the 200, the fastest mark ever by a Maui high schooler. Noah won in 2019 and has personal bests of 10.70 and 21.89, respectively. His time in the 100 is also the all-time fastest by a Maui athlete.
The highlight of Noah’s indoor season at Seattle came in his first race of the year, which included his older brother.
“It was so random. I don’t know how this happened, but there were about 40 runners and we got picked to run in the same heat, right next to each other,” he said.
Isaiah wound up winning in 6.99 seconds, with Noah a close second in 7.04.
“I didn’t talk to him about it, but everybody around us, our teammates and coaches, was interested and talking about it. There was definitely extra pressure, but I tried not to think about it too much and at the end of the race I was happy he was right next to me.”