The last mile: Rocky’s Isaac Petsch finds closure on an empty track at West High

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Big Sky State Games opening

Isaac Petsch wins the Montana Mile during the opening ceremony of the Big Sky State Games at Wendy’s Field at Daylis Stadium in 2018. Petsch, a Billings West alum, earned six All-American honors in indoor and outdoor track at Rocky Mountain College. 

BILLINGS — Fresh off a seventh-place finish and All-American status in the mile at the NAIA Indoor Track & Field Championships earlier this month, Rocky Mountain College senior Isaac Petsch was ready to finish off his outdoor career with a bang, too.

Unfortunately, the explosion of COVID-19 that led to the coronavirus pandemic put a sudden end to those hopes when the NAIA canceled its spring sports season Monday.

“Devastated,” is the word Petsch used to describe the situation, no doubt speaking for senior athletes everywhere, in all spring sports.

Petsch also ran cross country at Rocky and is in training pretty much all year, going from cross country to indoor to outdoor track. He said he usually takes a week off between seasons, meaning he’ll have about 21 days a year where he’s not doing any training.

So he’s had all that training for an outdoor season and nothing to show for it.

Well, he decided Saturday he wasn’t going to let all that training go to waste, so he and Rocky teammate Jackson Wilson, a freshman who just missed being an All-American in the indoor 3,000, went to the West High track and gave themselves a personal time trial.

If for no other reason than they could.

“We still wanted to see what more we had and get one last race on the track,” Petsch said.

Petsch, who graduated from Billings West, has already used up a redshirt season. The NAIA said spring athletes wouldn’t be charged a year of eligibility, so while Petsch can no longer run cross country or indoor track at Rocky, he can run another season of outdoor track.

But he’s graduating this spring with majors in computer science and art, and he isn’t sure he wants to return to competition after having been, by that time, away for nearly a year.

Again, like other college senior athletes around the country, Petsch is processing how these last few weeks have brought an end to his career.

“It’s definitely a tough one,” he said. “More so it coming to an unexpected ending. The ending I would have dreamed was ending on a big PR at nationals, and having that whole season taken away from you is pretty devastating.”

He didn’t run his best Saturday, he said, but he’s happy with his career-wrapping indoor mile time of 4:13.75, which set a personal best and earned him his sixth career All-American designation. And while there is plenty of disappointment, disillusionment and outright worry to go around at present, Petsch said he has seen some uplifting sights in recent times.

“Just running outdoors recently I’ve been seeing a lot of people out walking their dogs, just walking, or doing their own workouts, which is really cool,” he said. “That in this time of quarantine to get out and exercise.

“Maybe this is a blessing in disguise a little bit, in certain areas.”

Email Mike Scherting at mike.scherting@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsSchert


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