Standing in line waiting to receive his competition number, out of the corner of his eye, Jason Smith saw head coach Andy Sythe talking on the phone.
Unsure why, Smith continued with his pre-jump warm up. Sythe walked towards Smith with a sullen demeanor about him.
That was when the news broke.
“He told me that the Big West told us we have to go back home,” Smith said.
The Long Beach State junior jumper was set to be the first Big West athlete to compete in two separate events in the NCAA national championships March 13, but received a devastating phone call minutes before starting.
After making the almost 800-mile-trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico, Smith and Sythe were told to pack their bags and head home.
“It’s not easy to have to tell coach Sythe and Jason Smith that they have to come home,” Athletic Director Andy Fee told the 49er on March 12, “one of the worst parts of the job is making that phone call.”
Smith knew that this year’s championships would be different than usual, with the implementation of no spectators already in effect, but he never thought of the possibility of it being canceled.
“When he told me the news, I was just so hurt and sad that this was actually what it had came to,” Smith said. “I didn’t really ask for any specifics, I was just upset.”
Around the same time Fee delivered the news to Smith and Sythe, the rest of the team back in Long Beach was told as well, who flooded Smith with texts of encouragement and hope.
Smith told his teammates to “stay focused and together,” because, “it’s not just a me thing, this affects everyone.”
Once back home and the “alternative instruction” lifestyle had set in, Smith was doing his best to stay on track, meeting with fellow teammates in small groups on their own time to do light workouts.
“Literally my morning is occupied by me finding out where I’m going to work out, then going out and doing the workout, then I come home, play ‘[Call of Duty] Warzone,’” Smith said. “Then make a nice little meal and just hang out at the house. It’s a slow life.”
Smith kept his motivation during this slow period with his goal set for competing to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics.
And then, once again, what he aspired for most was swiftly stolen away.
“I just woke up in the morning to check my phone and I see Tokyo 2020 postponed until 2021,” Smith said. “That was the first time ever that the Olympic games had done this before, and I was just like ‘Wow, that’s crazy.’ I was upset when I heard that.”
Laying in bed wondering how this could possibly happen, Smith checked his phone again, but this time to a text message from his life-long friend’s father.
“I’ve known him since we were like 8 years old and he was like always a father figure in my life, he texted me and was like, ‘Yeah, it’s a bummer that the Olympics got canceled, but maybe next year is going to be a better year for you anyway, you know, things work out in mysterious ways,’” Smith said.
“So I took that to heart and I was like maybe this is for a reason. So even though I heard the news and was upset at first, it was just nice knowing I still have my supporters thinking about me and keeping me positive, motivated,” he added.
Smith said his family is the biggest influence in his life and he’s looking forward to being able to use this extra time given to him to spend with them back home in the Bay Area, whether the circumstances are ideal or not.
“I’m just going to get some R and R with my family, haven’t seen them in a while, so it’ll be nice to be home and reassess and just get the advice from them,” Smith said. “I always talk to them about it, ask them for advice. Just going back home and kind of just developing another plan.”
Although the big events are again a dream, he’s looking forward to the little things for now.
“[Momma’s cooking] absolutely,” he said. “That and just their company, you know, there’s always jokes when I’m home with the family and we’re all together, so that’s just my happy time with them, just spending time with them when we’re all together, that’s what I’m excited for.”