Morales-Williams persevered through pandemic to become one of Canada's top sprinters

·4 min read

Virtually every day after COVID-19 closed high schools and shuttered sports facilities in Ontario, Christopher Morales-Williams would get dressed as if he was going to track practice.

Instead, the 17-year-old from Toronto would go for a long run alone.

He started at two kilometres and worked his way up to 12 -- which is virtually a marathon for a sprinter.

"I was just so used to the routine of practice. So, I went for long runs, it's really all I could do. I just kept doing mileage, every single day," he said. "I would run around my neighbourhood, and then I would run around other neighbourhoods too, it was actually fun."

Morales-Williams was poised for an exciting four years of high school track when he broke the Ontario junior high school record in the 400. But the pandemic erased the next two seasons. Morales-Williams saw numerous kids his age quit for good.

But his perseverance paid off. He won gold in the 200 and 400 metres and silver in the 100 at the Ontario high school -- or OFSAA -- championships, and secured a scholarship to run for the Georgia Bulldogs and coach Caryl Smith Gilbert, the college coach of Andre De Grasse.

Morales-Williams will also lead the Canadian team at the world under-20 track and field championships, which begin Monday in Cali, Colombia.

Morales-Williams' coach Tony Sharpe, who was also De Grasse's first coach, said each time the numerous COVID-19 lockdowns ended, "it was like Christopher didn't miss a step."

"With all the lockdowns we had over the last couple of years, Christopher was able to maintain his fitness probably better than anybody else in the club. A lot of kids quit the sport out of frustration.

"But for Christopher to continue to work on his own, in the middle of COVID and all that stuff, in winter, that kind of dedication ... that doesn't happen."

His dad, Raul Morales, was so concerned about injuries running on ice and snow that he purchased a set of winter spikes for Christopher to slip over his running shoes for grip.

Morales said his son didn't need so much as a nudge to get out the door.

"It's all been him," he said. "He's always been determined. I think he saw that OK, this is my goal ... I have to do what I have do. So it's snowing, it's winter, doesn't matter. It's just weather."

But it was also tough to see his son, and other high school athletes, missing out.

"Christopher said it best one time when we were chatting, he said, 'You know, it's like two years of my life were stolen,'" Morales said. "It's so true, he couldn't hang out with his friends, even just to go to the mall, do all these things that at his age, they're starting to sort of discover themselves through their independence."

Morales-Williams said the two years lost to the pandemic made him realize how much he loved track. And he said he's a stronger athlete for his perseverance.

"I worked so hard to just keep running after hearing 'oh, another lockdown.' I already lost so much from this and was hindered by so much," he said. "But it also helped me realize how much I love track, because I wasn't too sure about going to the United States for school .... But after Grade 11, I realized 'This is really what I want to do, because I miss it so much right now.'

"It's helped me just realize what I love, and I actually want to keep working for it."

With races in Ontario the past two years virtually non-existent, Morales-Williams was able to travel to the U.S. this past winter, and finished third at the U.S. high school championships.

Canada has a team of 33 athletes -- 19 women and 14 men -- competing at the world championships, which run through Aug. 6. Jason Reindl is the team's head coach.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 28, 2022.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

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