His one shining moment was going to play out in the shadows, far removed from the glare of millions watching and a television contract worth billions of dollars.
Kenroy Higgins II had been training for this moment since September. The UCLA sprinter had flown into Albuquerque, N.M., as part of a roughly 20-person contingent of Bruins preparing to compete in the NCAA men’s and women’s indoor track championships set to begin Friday.
They were excited. They were ready. They didn’t make it out of the starting blocks.
Higgins’ hopes of winning the 60-yard dash crumbled when he was summoned to an emergency team meeting at 11:15 a.m. Thursday.
He learned that every Pac-12 team had to pull out of the meet as part of the conference’s decision to halt its participation in all sports competitions until further notice because of the spreading coronavirus.
It provided no solace several hours later when the NCAA announced that it would no longer hold any of its winter or spring championship events.
“It’s definitely heartbreaking,” Higgins said by telephone, “for us to put in all this work and you can’t do anything about it. The reaction was just shock.”
Higgins said there were “a lot of tears,” especially among those whose college careers had ended because they were seniors and their eligibility had expired. There would be more meets to come for Higgins, a sophomore from Oakland who had been a running back on the Bruins’ football team before transitioning to track at the end of his freshman year.
Higgins said he had not fretted about the coronavirus until NBA players tested positive.
“At first I wasn’t worried because it’s only really the elderly people who have been dying from it,” Higgins said, “but now I see people like [Utah Jazz guard] Donovan Mitchell with the coronavirus and I don’t know what his symptoms are or how bad he is, so now I’m a little worried. It’s making me feel like it’s more serious than everybody’s actually talking about.”
UCLA had flown commercially to and from the track meet, meaning that the Bruins were exposed to others in the security line, at the gate and aboard their aircraft, increasing their potential exposure to the virus.
“Now we’re about to go back to the airport,” Higgins said, “and there ain’t no telling who’s got the virus or where you can even eat at or sit at, stuff like that.”
The uncertainty would continue once Higgins returned to campus.
“I don’t even know what the plan is once we get back to L.A.,” Higgins said, “because classes are canceled, we can’t practice, so I don’t know if they’re going to cancel our whole outdoor season.”
It was a surreal ending to real championship hopes, a story that became newsworthy for all the wrong reasons.
“I definitely can’t believe all this,” Higgins said. “It just sucks because I know I planned on doing real great at this meet.”