Why Moore track seniors don't want your pity — but deserve your respect
MOORE — Carlos Soto knows there are people who feel sorry for him.
Feel sorry, actually, for the entire track team at Moore High School.
He understands why they would. Three months ago, a drunk driver slammed into several of the team’s distance runners who were out for a cool-down run. Three were killed. Four were injured. All were changed forever.
Then after weeks of tears and funerals and heartbreak, the coronavirus pandemic hit. Moore shuttered like every other school in Oklahoma, and that meant an unceremonious end to the track season.
It was particularly abrupt for seniors like Soto.
“Some people would say that’s the worst possible scenario for any senior, what the Moore High School track seniors went through,” he said. “You can either look at it in a bad perspective or try to make something good out of it, something positive.”
“I think that’s what me, Joe and the other seniors are attempting to do.”
Joseph White, another Moore track senior, nodded in agreement.
“Down here,” he said, “we have to keep moving.”
It was a pledge White, Soto and the rest of the seniors made in the days after the crash. They would run and compete and love like Rachel Freeman, Yuridia Martinez and Kolby Crum. They would live like the three who died.
The pandemic has made that tough.
But these seniors have found ways to cope. They have navigated through difficulty before.
Many of the seniors were in sixth grade in Moore when a massive tornado tore through the town on May 20, 2013. One of the high school’s feeder middle schools, Highland East, was hit while its other feeder, Central, was narrowly missed.
So many students now at Moore High were directly impacted by that storm. Soto’s house sustained damage while his uncle’s house was destroyed completely. White’s house was damaged, too, not by the tornado but by massive hail.
Soto and White both remember weeks of storm clean-up. Everywhere they looked was damage, a constant reminder of what had been lost both in property and in lives. Twenty-four people died, including seven children at Plaza Towers Elementary.
“I think our class had to mature a little bit earlier,” Soto said.
Still, nothing could’ve fully prepared them for what happened in February. A truck going nearly 80 mph in a 25-mph zone hit a car, jumped a curb and careened into distance runners from the track team.
White was one of the runners who was hit.
He suffered a long list of serious injuries. Brain bleed. Broken knee. Broken wrist. Sprained ankles. Deep lacerations. Almost three months later, he is still rehabilitating and hoping to be cleared to run again in another month or so.
As bad as his physical injuries were, his emotional scars will last much longer — Rachel Freeman was his longtime girlfriend, and Kolby Crum was one of his best buddies.
“It’s been pretty much the hardest time of my life,” White said.
While White and others on the scene must work through the trauma of that afternoon, Soto has a different struggle. He is a two-sport athlete in the spring, toggling between soccer and track practices. That Monday of the crash was supposed to be a track day, but a friend who had just moved into the district was going to be attending soccer practice for the first time. Carlos wanted to be there.
He was at soccer instead of track, on the pitch instead of on that fateful training run.
“For a long time, I regretted not going to track,” he said. “I was like, ‘That should have been me. I could have pushed someone away. I deserved to be hit more than someone else.’”
That day was horrible and tragic in so many ways, and in the weeks that followed, members of the track team sheltered each other. You could see it at the funerals, how they hugged and held hands and leaned into each other.
“I think the way that we managed … is being together,” Soto said. “Being positive and being there for each other.”
They clustered together at school, on weekends, during practice. They visited teammates who were recovering. They ran together when they could.
Losing that physical contact has been one of the toughest things about the coronavirus shutdown. Everyone has stayed connected through technology. Texts. Calls. FaceTimes. Zooms. It’s not the same, though.
It’s difficult not to think the track team at Moore deserved better. Needed better, too. It would’ve been so much better for them to be together this spring, easier for them to grieve and heal and grow.
Imagine how much it would’ve meant to honor Rachel and Yuridia and Kolby at their big home track meet. Or present a varsity letter in memoriam to those runners’ parents at the end-of-season banquet.
It’s not fair that those moments have been taken away.
Didn’t the track team lose enough already?
I asked Soto and White about that.
They pointed to faith.
“Of course, the first thing you want to do is question why,” Soto said. “Why would this happen to our team and to the most innocent people?”
White said, “It kind of pops in my head here and there. But through it all, I’ve never questioned God. I’ve just kept my faith and just know that there’s a purpose.”
They believe, too, that faith without works is dead. They aren’t sitting around. They are doing.
Soto will run cross country and track at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas. He had straight A's when the pandemic hit, so he didn’t have to take any more classes, but he is using the time to work as many hours as possible, socking away money for a car payment and the college life.
White wasn’t able to go back to school after the accident, so he is making up academic work he missed. He’s also doing an hour or two of rehab every day, and a few weeks ago, he was able to ditch his crutches. By June, he hopes to start running a bit. He is going to run cross country and track at Rogers State in Claremore, though his recovery will likely force him to redshirt next year.
Even though White, Soto and all the seniors on Moore’s track team have endured a lot, they hope others remember their class not for what they went through but for how they came through it.
They were resilient.
They were strong even when they lost three of their own.
“We keep them in our memory,” White said, “and just keep going.”
Don’t be sorry for the Moore track team.
Be in awe.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.
Know of a high school senior athlete we should highlight? Tell us why at NICsportsdesk@oklahoman.com.