Four years, four track stars, one historical record broken

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Photo by Chelsea Lee

This year’s groundbreaking time landed seniors Alyssa Meng, Alison Tjoe, Vanessa Su and Claire Wang in first place in the Central Coast Section League and eighth in the ranks of all high school California teams.

Chelsea Lee

On the red rubber track of the 2022 Stanford invitational, Lynbrook’s girls varsity 4×100 team sped through the finish line with a time of 47.82 seconds, not only topping their personal records but also trumping Lynbrook’s all-time record of 48.06 seconds from 1978. This year’s groundbreaking time landed seniors Alyssa Meng, Alison Tjoe, Vanessa Su and Claire Wang in first place in the Central Coast Section League and eighth in the ranks of all high school California teams.

In this sprint relay event, each member of a four-person team takes a turn running 100 meters, handing off a baton as they switch to the next teammate. The success of Lynbrook’s team started from their freshman year. Being the sole freshmen varsity track athletes at Lynbrook, there was a strong camaraderie between them.

“We understood what we had all been through, and no one else could really empathize with us,” Meng said. “Being a 4×100 team throughout all four years definitely gave us the time to bond.”

As they consistently trained together for six days a week on and off season, their connection with each other as teammates grew rapidly. Their strong chemistry and trust motivate them to keep improving and allow them to sprint and pass batons without hesitation.

“Just the amount of time we spent together made our friendship even closer than before,” Su said. “We’ve gotten so used to being around each other, we’re like family.”

The team’s coach, Bernie Ramos, also helped the team become the runners they are today. His understanding of each teammate’s learning strategies allows him to curate customized workouts and schedules that tailor to each individual’s needs and help them improve as a team. He also focuses on building positive mentalities in them so they can do their best without getting burnt out, rather than focusing on breaking records.

“A lot of the goal was just trying to build that strong mindset and have the competence to know that they can outperform themselves if they allow it,” Ramos said.

Wang’s older brother and Tjoe’s older sister have also been the main role models for their younger sisters and paved the way for them in their track journeys. Wang says that without her brother, she likely would not have even tried track. Seeing his determination as Lynbrook’s track & field team captain and as a walk-on Division I track athlete at San Jose State University inspired her to work hard in the sport. He helps her improve her technique on the track and helps Lynbrook jumpers as an assistant coach. For Tjoe, her sister, who also did high school track, always comforted her when she lost confidence. When Tjoe’s sister was at Lynbrook, she always made sure everyone was included and gave them the support and encouragement they needed.

When they announced our team, there were a bunch of people who were like, ‘Wow, that team does not look fast’ because we’re Asian. But when they announced our time, the reaction was, ‘Where did they get that time from?’ I thought it was cool to shatter whatever stereotypes they had for us, and I hope they saw us win. I would have loved to see their expressions when we won.”

— Claire Wang, Senior

Through their four years as a power unit, the team has achieved their ambitious goals. The first time they broke the milestone of 50 seconds was in their freshman year at the Quicksilver Invitational, where they achieved a time of 49.88 seconds. In their sophomore and junior years, they attempted to break the 49-second barrier, but the COVID-19 pandemic cut their season short. Their senior year was their final chance to achieve a new significant personal record before graduation, and with this extra motivation, they surpassed the 49-second milestone and broke 48 seconds only a week after that.

Of all their meets and milestones, the team’s proudest accomplishment is qualifying for and attending the 2022 Arcadia Invitational — a national annual high school track & field meet that is one of the most prestigious and competitive in the U.S. Attending this meet has been one of their dreams since freshman year. They not only attended the invitational but also won first place in the women’s 4×100 open division among 40 highly-ranked teams from 26 states. They achieved a time of 47.81 seconds — a time one-hundredth of a second faster than the record-breaking time they recorded at the Stanford Invitational just a week prior.

“In Arcadia, even though our time did improve a little, there’s still a lot that we can clean up with our handoffs,” Tjoe said. “And so I’m looking forward to seeing how far we can push our limits and how much our time can improve when we truly do run a clean race.”

In reaction to the triumph of their dreams, the team remembers Meng putting a hand to her mouth in amazement, Su and Wang hugging and Tjoe in such disbelief that she just stared at the time and waited, thinking that the judges had calculated their time incorrectly and were going to bring out a correction. Their success also shocked many of their competitors.

“When they announced our team, there were a bunch of people who were like, ‘Wow, that team does not look fast’ because we’re Asian,” Wang said. “But when they announced our time, the reaction was, ‘Where did they get that time from?’ I thought it was cool to shatter whatever stereotypes they had for us, and I hope they saw us win. I would have loved to see their expressions when we won.”

After the race, members of another team thanked them for giving them hope and representation as people of color in track & field. With the knowledge of the impact they made, the team hopes to disprove racial stereotypes and show others that Lynbrook is an athletically competitive school.

“I hope that going forward, when people see the name Lynbrook, they don’t doubt us anymore, and they have trust that we’ll perform well and compete well,” Wang said.

After graduating from Lynbrook, Wang and Meng will move on to run Division III track & field at Johns Hopkins University and New York University, respectively. When Su goes to UC Davis and Tjoe goes to UC Santa Barbara, they hope to do club track or intramural sports.

“From what I’ve seen from coaching, when an underclassmen class sees their upperclassmen do so well, it really sparks motivation in them,” Ramos said. “They are going to make a huge impact on our younger athletes because they had that year to share with these people.”

Watch a video of the team’s race at the 2022 Arcadia Invitational here.