Bristol Central track and field senior Galen Hickey didnât know it at the time, but as he prepared to compete with the rest of his 4x400 relay team at the New England indoor track and field championships earlier this year, he was getting set to run one of the final races of his high school career.
His future was also yet to be decided.
Hickey wanted to compete at the collegiate level, but as he stretched his legs to prepare for New Englands, interest in the senior appeared to be low. There had been a few emails between him and other schools, but nothing panned out. The coronavirus pandemic had yet to wipe out the springâs outdoor track season, and once it did, Hickeyâs competitive track career would be over unless something changed in his favor.
Then, as Hickey continued with his warmups, his coach called him over. There was someone Hickey needed to meet.
That person was American International College track and field head coach Leo Mayo, who told Hickey he was interested in having Hickey compete with the Division-II Yellow Jackets, presenting just the kind of opportunity Hickey had been hoping to receive all season.
âI knew my friend went there for football, and another Central student a couple years back also went there for track,â Hickey said. âIn my head I was thinking this was a good school. He told me about the school and how successful the runners are and how successful they are with their academics too. I told him I liked it and I would keep things open for other colleges to see if theyâd also come and talk to me.â
But after waiting for other options, AIC still stuck out as the best fit for Hickey, and he went on a visit to the campus, where his decision became clearer.
âI went on a visit to AIC, and I really liked the campus,â Hickey said. âIt wasnât too big, and the classrooms arenât too big, so it was perfect for me. [Mayo] went more in depth with the success of the track team and I started to like it more and more. I got to meet one of the other runners, and he told me some stuff and by that point, I was convinced it was the school for me.â
Hickey announced his commitment last month, finding the sense of security he had been hoping for since the start of his senior season. Of course, a little uncertainty wasnât anything new to him. Hickey had two ACL surgeries during his tenure with the Rams, yet still managed to battle his way back and help Centralâs 4x400 relay team finish in second place at this yearâs State Open, which helped the team as a whole finish second overall. Hickey also came in 13th in the long jump at the State Open, completing a remarkable return to health after his ACL injuries could have drastically altered his athletic career. If Hickey could overcome that, surely he could find his way through a college recruitment drought.
âI never had doubts that I could compete at the next level,â Hickey said. âAfter a practice, I would look at any random collegesâ track and field and see what they were running and jumping, and I thought âI could put up those numbers.â It pushed me to work harder.â
Hickeyâs hard work landed him in his living room, celebrating his commitment to AIC in unique fashion due to schools being closed for the rest of the academic year. Those closures also meant the cancellation of spring sports, marking an end to Hickeyâs high school career. But he now knows another chapter waits.
âThe outdoor season being canceled was hard,â Hickey said. âIf we still had it, I would be able to better myself to jump farther distances than indoor and run faster times. I know my coach would have pushed me to be my best in any event I do.â
That chance is gone, but Hickey has still been working to improve his marks, working out with his brother Dathan, who plays football at Yale, regularly. Hickey enters his freshman year with the Yellow Jackets hoping to compete at the national level, which eight different athletes from AIC did this past winter season. Hickey will be joining a quality program, and wants to make sure heâs ready. Until his college career begins, Hickey can embrace the security of knowing his next step after operating for months without knowing what was ahead.
âIt feels great,â Hickey said. âWhen the colleges arenât really looking at you, you feel like youâre not good enough for this. But as you keep working and getting better, they start coming. Knowing youâre committing to a good track college, inside you feel like you did this, and if I can do this I can do almost anything.â