Canandaigua's VanGorder and Twombly join Victor's Bellavia, Roth and Molesworth in Staten Island this weekend

There’s an old joke that everywhere is within walking distance, if you have the time.

Grace VanGorder certainly has the time, and the Canandaigua Academy senior racewalker used that time to punch her ticket to the state indoor track championships. She’ll be joined by CA classmate and pole vaulter Ben Twombly, along with Victor’s Nico Bellavia, Rebecca Roth and Morgan Molesworth at this weekend’s event at the Ocean Breeze Track & Field Athletic Complex on Staten Island.

“I’m so excited,” said VanGorder. “This is something I’ve been looking forward to my whole career.”

This career didn’t begin as a racewalker, but whose does? VanGorder joined track and field as a sprinter and by her own admission, was “a bad one.

“But coach (Arlene) DeVinney told me to try walking. It wasn’t long after that I realized I could go somewhere.”

Of course, walking is easy. Racewalking, however, is not. Endurance is needed, but it’s both physical and mental because form isn’t just an aid to faster times, it’s required to avoid disqualification. During competition, walkers must keep the back toe on the ground until the heel of the front foot touches the ground. Additionally, the supporting leg must remain straight until the body passes over it.

This form, which includes pumping arms, is far from natural and straying too far from it can disqualify a racer and this is where the mental discipline to maintain form comes into play.

“Form is key,” said Jack Coons, who coaches VanGorder at CA. “It can be easy to break form when you’re a little tired, and especially when you come around that final turn” and the finish line is approaching.

As you may guess, learning and maintaining form comes with hours and hours of practice. There’s also the hurdle of self-perception because as any racewalker will tell you, the curious stares of onlookers during a race isn’t always flattering.

“My first year, as a sophomore, I was all about what people thought,” said VanGorder, recalling a local 5-kilometer race a couple of years ago in which she did the entire race as a walker while the rest of the field ran. “Now, I just do my thing. I’m proud of what I do.”

She has plenty of reason to be proud. She entered her senior season with the goal of breaking the CA record and winning a Section V Class B title in the 1,500-meter race. She did both, and when she crossed the line first in 7:48.14 in the Feb. 16 sectional race, she said she screamed in joy.

“People thought I was hurt,” she said.

VanGorder followed that with a 7:32 to finish second at the Feb. 24 state qualifiers and her goal for this weekend is to medal. 

For Twombly, the objective is quite the opposite of VanGorder. While the racewalker maintains contact with the ground, Twombly will be soaring more than 14 feet off the ground and if his goal is met, he’ll clear 14-feet, 6-inches this weekend.

“The goal is 15 feet, but 14-6 is what I’m really shooting for,” the CA senior said. 

Twombly cleared 14 feet at the Class B championships, the same height as Roman Sagan of Brockport. But the criteria came down to the number of attempts, which declared Sagan the Section V champion. 

Still, Twombly is going into the state meet full of optimism based on the progress he’s seen this season. His best vault as a junior was 13 feet, so adding a full foot has been rewarding.

“I knew I’d been improving,” he said. “But when I cleared 14 feet, I knew it was all paying off.”

It’ll be interesting at Staten Island, he said, because he won’t have his CA coaches with him, instead relying on a private coach and others in Section V for guidance when needed. But that he’s heading to states is enough for him to validate the work he’s put into his craft as a vaulter.

“Now that I’m here, I’ll do the best I can,” he said. “Whatever happens, happens. I’m glad I got this far.”

Victor’s Bellavia finished second in the Class A 600 in 1:24.19, just 1/100th of a second behind Rush-Henrietta’s Lukas D’Alfonso (1:24.18), but he won the Section V qualifier in 1:24.0. The junior ran a 1:23.13 earlier this season, making him the No. 15 seed heading into states and is less than three seconds off the pace of Suffern’s Anthony Misko (1:20.37).

Roth, a junior, cleared 5-5 at the state qualifier and comes into the state meet as the No. 8 seed. MyKhiyah Williams of Benjamin Banneker Academy in Brooklyn comes in at No. 1 (5-8).

Molesworth, a senior, is part of the Section V intersectional relay team that also includes Palmyra-Macedon freshman Katelyn Burger. The Section V team is seeded No. 5 for the event.