By John Wykoff
If it weren’t for clouds, there wouldn’t be any silver linings, someone once said.
Well, the overwhelming cloud over the last couple of years has been COVID and its variations.
In terms of silver linings, the world pandemic helped bring two top-notch distance runners to the Viking track & field and cross country programs while attending graduate school here: Katie Camarena and Jordan MacIntosh.
Camarena holds school records in all six events she’s competed in at Portland State. That includes the cross country 4k, 5k and 6k, as well as the indoor mile, 3k and 5k. The indoor mile and 3k times are fast enough to also be Big Sky Conference records, and the 5,000-meter time is second all-time in Big Sky history. Her national rankings in the mile and 3k also put her in position to qualify for the NCAA Indoor Championships March 11-12, where she’s a legitimate contender to win the mile.
MacIntosh holds the school cross country record in the 6k and ranks fourth all-time in the 8k and third all-time in the 10k. Indoors, he’s set the men’s mile and 3k school records, both by large chunks of time over the previous records.
Camarena, who continues to set PSU school and Big Sky Conference distance records, transferred from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She decided to redshirt during her last year at UCSB so she could focus on quality training and increasing her mileage (that’s training miles run, not miles per gallon). Then COVID arrived, taking away her planned senior year at UCSB.
“When COVID happened, I really had nothing to do but run. School went online and there were no other distractions. I basically left the house to run or go on walks and I really took the time to focus on all the other aspects of being an athlete. I also realized how much I love competing,” said Camarena. It was one thing when she chose not to compete, quite another when she couldn’t because everything was on hold.
So, when COVID handed her an extra year of eligibility following completion of her undergraduate degree and with a year of concentrated training under her belt, Camarena began looking at graduate programs…and schools where she could showcase the effects of her training and conditioning.
She contacted a lot of coaches “just to see if their programs would be a good fit.” A former teammate and friend had a good experience after transferring to the Viking program, so the PSU program was on her list.
“After talking on the phone, I realized that we wanted the same things and had the same team/individual goals and that they would support me in reaching the goals I’d set for myself,” Camarena said. She also liked the way training was structured and that there was a good team culture. “I just felt like PSU checked all the boxes and had everything I wanted athletically and academically.”
Jordan MacIntosh, transferred from the University of Minnesota after the indoor track program was cut during COVID. He and other athletes successfully petitioned for the program to be reinstated, but, since he was graduating that spring anyway, he decided to look elsewhere for graduate school and a place to continue running.
“When I began to look for a new school, PSU stood out because of its location and academics…but what sold me on PSU was (assistant track) Coach (Josh) Seitz. He had a vision that I wanted to be part of and I could tell that he was the kind of coach who cared and believes in you as an athlete, but as a person first and foremost,” MacIntosh said.
So, to the Pacific Northwest, they came. Camarena from Santa Barbara with its pleasant Mediterranean climate and MacIntosh from Canada via the American Midwest with their frozen winters.
Camarena was pleasantly surprised when she arrived. “Everyone made it seem like the rain would be terrible and constant, so I prepared for the worst, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised.”
Admittedly, she arrived during a long, sunny dry spell, but she said she doesn’t even mind running in the rain “because the team makes it fun no matter what the weather is like”.
To MacIntosh, the Pacific Northwest has been “awesome” so far in his opinion. “Being from Canada and living in the Midwest, I’m used to harsh winters, so the PNW winter was a nice break from the snowstorms and blizzards,” said MacIntosh.
Both are immersed in their graduate programs at PSU and both have broadened their horizons in terms of post-university careers.
Camarena listed sports psychology as a career goal when she arrived but is currently doing the Sustainable Foods Systems graduate program. PSU doesn’t have a sports psychology program, and she found the Sustainable Food Systems program most interesting when looking at what was available.
“I worked at an elementary school during my last year at UCSB and I saw a lot of food waste and issues with single-use plastics and sustainability in their school lunch program. I became really interested in what could be done to fix these issues, so when I saw this program, I thought it would be a good fit,” she said.She’s now toying with getting a teaching credential or work in education so she can help with sustainability issues in regard to school lunches.
MacIntosh is in PSU’s nationally recognized Urban Studies Master’s Program. He’s currently juggling career decisions between architecture and environmental law. “I really want a job that will make an impact environmentally and, right now, my Masters of Urban Studies is helping me learn a lot and causing me to think about how I can best have an impact.”
They also see contrasts between their undergraduate universities and Portland State.
PSU’s track program feels a lot smaller — and that’s a good thing, said Camarena.
“I feel I am able to get to know everyone better here. And it feels like people outside of the team (staff, faculty, students, other sports teams) actually care about cross country and track, which wasn’t as evident at UCSB. I feel like athletics as a whole are valued and supported here much more than I expected,” she said.
Campus life is the biggest difference between the University of Minnesota and PSU, said MacIntosh. Minnesota was the stereotypical campus, extremely large with a large population living on campus. “PSU is also a pretty large campus, but it feels different because it blends into the city being downtown and a lot of the students commute, so the atmosphere is different. There are upsides and downsides to both.”
Camarena is running her last collegiate year and Macintosh has a year of eligibility left. Both are helping lead PSU’s program to new heights.
Besides their running abilities, head track coach David Hepburn said he has been delighted that both athletes bring other dimensions to his program.
“Katie has been a great addition with her infectious smile and constant have-fun attitude. She shows everyone that we can have a good time working hard and that big things are possible here at PSU. I expect her to continue to have fun as her collegiate time comes to an end. She has been an absolute pleasure to be around,” Hepburn said.
MacIntosh “has brought a maturity to the team along with a determination and dedication. I expect him to continue to help lead the team as it grows into the program we all hope to see.”
And, do Camarena and MacIntosh think they made the right move coming to the Pacific Northwest to finish their collegiate running careers?
“I feel like I have really flourished during my time at PSU. I feel so supported and encouraged by the team, coaches and staff. I have really grown as an athlete and gained a lot of confidence. It’s fun to have people around you who believe in you and I really love the energy and culture of this team. I’m so happy with my decision, I honestly wish I had more time at PSU,” said Camarena.
MacIntosh enjoyed his time at Minnesota, but thinks transferring was the right decision. “I think I’ve benefited tremendously from my time in Portland, even though it’s only been six months. I’ve learned a lot about running and my strengths and weaknesses. Another benefit is having such great teammates. The team here is so close and the people here are selfless, which makes being on this team really easy and enjoyable. From top to bottom, this program is about developing as individuals and I’ve really felt that emphasis in my time here.”
Upcoming indoor meets
Big Sky Indoor Championships Feb. 24-26, Bozeman, Mont.
- Katie Camarena will compete in the Women’s 800 Meters Feb. 25 at 5:10 pm
- Jordan MacIntosh will compete in the Men’s Distance Medley Relay Feb. 25 at 7:55 pm and the Men’s 3,000 Meters on Feb. 26 at 3 pm
NCAA Indoor Championships, March 11-12, Birmingham, Ala.
Katie Camarena’s Potential Schedule of Events
FRIDAY, MARCH 11
- Mile (Semifinals) – 5 p.m. PT / 7 p.m. CT
SATURDAY, MARCH 12
- Mile (Finals) – 5 p.m. PT / 7 p.m. CT
- 3,000m (Finals) – 6 p.m. PT / 8 p.m. CT
Television Info: ESPN2/ESPNU/ESPN+ (Specifics TBA)