HS TRACK AND FIELD: WW’s Barcarola Bouncing Back At Best Time
It’s a terrifying feeling when runners feel a knifing pop.
Johnny Barcarola knew the fear and felt the pain.
Racing in a dual meet for Western Wayne almost four weeks ago, his leg locked up. He fell to the track grabbing the back of his leg. It’s a scene that puts a lump in a sprinter’s throat.
His sister, Trina, herself a standout athlete in track and field, darted to him and helped get him into the infield.
He fought the injury battle before, but this, a possible pulled hamstring, could have meant the end of a promising senior season for the Wildcats.
Patience, a commitment to a rehabilitation program, limited running and no competitions, helped Barcarola recover in time to perform at the Jordan Relays and the Robert Spagna Championship meet.
One caveat: In order not to overly strain the muscle with the fast twitching that sprinting requires, he moved to the 400-meter race.
It doesn’t require the frantic pace of the dashes, but it does test the mental and physical toughness of the athlete.
So far, so good.
After a strong effort at the Relays, and a gold-medal winning race at the Spagna meet, Barcarola aims for more this week at the District 2 Class 2A Track and Field Championships scheduled for Monday at Scranton Memorial Stadium.
“Right from seventh grade we knew that Johnny had tremendous potential,” Western Wayne coach Justin Collins said. “Unfortunately, he has had some injuries along the way that have prevented him from really making a statement.
“We are excited to see what he can do this year in the postseason in the sprints and jumps.”
As an elementary school student, Barcarola, who then played baseball, attended the Western Wayne youth invitational meet organized by coach Collins and his staff. It’s been the lifeline for the varsity program.
There, Barcarola’s speed and jumping ability grabbed everyone’s attention. After collecting some wins, he was hooked.
After a solid career in junior high where Barcarola won three gold medals as a freshman at the Phil Tochelli Junior High Championships, he faced mounting adversity.
First, as a sophomore, and a key cog on the 1,600-meter relay team Barcarola suffered not one, but two fractures to his hips where the muscles tore bone fragments.
“I was not flexible at all,” Barcarola said. “First, I planted and I heard a pop and landed face first in the sand while doing the long jump at an invitational at Kutztown University. I came back for the Spagna meet, and in the 200, I felt the same pull while running the turn. My doctors just said, after I recovered, if I worked on my flexibility, this would not be a long-term issue. But it was frustrating.
“I kind of felt like I let the team down, you know.”
As a junior, Barcarola had an impact for the Wildcats. At the District 2 Class 2A Championships, he landed at 21 feet, 1½ inches in the long jump for a bronze medal and he reached the PIAA meet as a member of the 1,600 relay. That experience, and supporting his sister on her state-medal-winning weekend, motivated him to return as a senior bigger, stronger, faster and more flexible.
“Seeing those guys jumping and running down at states, it gets you pumped,” Barcarola said. “I knew I needed to go for something bigger. It was back to the drawing board. The weight room was a big part of it. Doing all the lifts and working every single day on my stretching.
“Everything kind of clicked. I needed to make a name for myself.”
Throughout the early part of the outdoor season, Barcarola controlled the sprints for the Wildcats. He had wins in the 100 and long jump against eventual LTC Division II champion Wallenpaupack.
Then came that horrifying 100 meters against Valley View.
He got to the finish line, but not without concern for his hamstring.
“I felt it halfway through the race and thought, maybe it’s just a cramp. I grabbed my hamstring and tried to get up. I needed Trina to get me up and we got the trainer. It pulled.
“I heard and felt that pop. It was sickening.”
Being cautious became the focus for Barcarola.
He missed a meet against North Pocono and took it slow in the finale against Honesdale where he won the 400 in 54.32 seconds.
At the Jordan Relays, Barcarola helped the Wildcats to a fifth-place finish overall.
Only two days later, he was in good form, running a 51.98 time in winning the 400 at the James Cross Invitational.
And at the Spagna Championship meet, he bolted from the blocks, attacked the back stretch and finished strong, holding off Delaware Valley’s Darryn Ouk to claim the gold medal in a time of 50.90 that positioned him as the No. 1 seed for the district meet.
Throughout the race, Trina yelled at the top of her voice, words of encouragement, and then sported a broad smile and appeared choked up with his victory.
“I couldn’t take my eyes off the race,” said Trina, who also had to maintain her focus on the approaching 300 hurdles. “He fought every single second. Every stride. Every muscle was working and I was so incredibly impressed and happy for him.
“I was inspired by his drive.”
Victory helps Barcarola cope with even the threat of disappointment.
It also armed him with a positive outlook.
He isn’t going to chance anything with the 100. But he intends to long jump, and also return to the 200, while chasing more gold in the 400.
“If in districts I can run the 400 and I can get to states, that would be great,” Barcarola said. “I found an event to take me to the next level and push me.”
And when the season is behind him, Barcarola will look to the future. He will continue his academic and athletic careers at Kutztown University, where his coach, his idol, was a Hall of Fame star in track and field.
“It’s a classic story of ups and downs,” Barcarola, 18, said. “I had my downs and I came back from them through hard work and coaching.
“I think it all worked out all right.”
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