Oregon's Carmela Cardama Baez put together the perfect game plan on Thursday to claim victory in the women's 10,000 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
"It just means so much because it’s been a long process," said Cardama Baez. "To finally get this today with my people, with my parents watching from home, with my friends screaming from the sidelines, it means a lot. It reminds me of how much work, time and patience it takes but also how many people you need involved in your corner."
For Cardama Baez, it was a fitting end to her Oregon career. Her second-place finish in 2019 lingered long, and in front of the home crowd, she had her chance to wipe the memory and replace it with a better one.
"I wanted to prove something. Today I was just happy to be here. This is my last race as a Duck. I just wanted to run for myself and have fun with it and it just ended up being a national championship."
With the 2020 outdoor championships being canceled, Cardama Baez had to wait two long years for her redemption.
Unlike 2019 in Austin, 2021 gave Cardama Baez a chance to complete the dream at historic Hayward Field.
"I’ve been dreaming of a big race at Oregon, Hayward Field, for a really long time. I was maybe a sophomore in high school when I found out for the first time that there’s a place called Hayward Field and the Olympic Trials were here and I came three seconds short and my national team didn’t take me."
This time, there was no keeping her off the track. Once her feet hit the ground, she was off and running, pun intended.
Not only was the moment special on a personal level, but it was also special for everyone who witnessed it. After more than a year of dealing with COVID-19 restrictions, 4,400 fans were allowed inside the newly renovated Hayward Field, bringing back life to the venue.
"The magic of Hayward Field is in the fans. We need them, we need that sound, we need the clapping, we need the screaming and it really makes this place magic."
On Thursday, Cardama Baez added to that magic with a fitting end to her Oregon career.