Sure, Mother knows best. But sometimes, Mother knows first.
On March 12, Hudson’s Bay graduate Erykah Weems was sitting in her hotel room in Birmingham, Ala., preparing to compete for the first time in the NCAA Division II indoor track and field championships.
It was the same night the NCAA announced a halt to all athletic events because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Actually, my mom called me and broke the news to me first,” Weems said. “She saw something on social media. Twitter kind of told it all.”
The next day — the day she was supposed to be competing in the 60-meter hurdles for Central Washington University — Weems was on a flight back to Seattle, uncertain of what the future held.
“We got off the plane at SeaTac and were driving back to Ellensburg,” Weems said. “I had so many questions, but wasn’t sure when to ask.”
On Wednesday, Weems answered one of those questions when she signed to compete for San Francisco State as a graduate transfer.
It completed a whirlwind month filled with disappointment, uncertainty, loss, mourning and finally hope for the future with the ability to finish her college track career and, as Weems puts it, “do it right.”
“Track is blessing to have,” she said. “I’m grateful to be granted an extra year of eligibility. I’m glad the NCAA made that decision.”
Track and field has long been a blessing for Weems. It led her to Central Washington after graduating from Hudson’s Bay in 2016.
“Central was a school that really took a chance on me,” Weems said. “I was a great athlete at Hudson’s Bay and had success at state. But I also had a lot of room for improvement. As a freshman, I took on the challenge of being the underdog in the program because they had other great athletes in the program. And that allowed me to grow.”
Weems became a two-time NCAA Division II national qualifier in the 400-meter hurdles (2018-2019) in the outdoor season, just missing the finals both years. After qualifying for nationals for the first time in the indoor season, Weems had big goals for the outdoor season this spring.
“I wanted to get back to nationals and do it right,” she said. “Make finals this year, maybe win a national championship.”
But the cancelation of the spring season ended those hopes. Weems was uncertain of her future, but the NCAA’s decision to extend a year of eligibility to seniors competing in spring sports offered an opportunity.
“I was already thinking of pursuing my masters, but I was trying to figure out how to pay for it,” Weems said. “It was my coach (at Central) who said I could enter the transfer portal. That could be a way to do it. I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I never thought about that.’ ”
Weems heard back from Division I programs like Utah, Fresno State, Eastern Michigan and North Texas, among others.
But before she could even consider those options, Weems lost her great grandfather to cancer on March 20. March 20 was also the 18th birthday of her brother Joshua, a senior at Hudson’s Bay.
“There were a lot of emotions in the air,” she said.
Restrictions from the current health crisis prevented the family from holding a traditional memorial service. But as she has throughout this process, Weems tried to remain positive.
“The COVID-19 situation has made things difficult, but it also allowed me to be home with my family,” Weems said. “I haven’t been home for so long in a long time. So the fact that we were able to mourn together helped, instead of with me being all the way in Ellensburg.”
In the end, Weems decided that continuing her schooling and competing at San Francisco State, a Division II program, checked all her boxes.
“I knew a little bit about their program and the great athletes they had in the previous year,” Weems said. “So I was excited when they contacted me. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be in the Bay Area?”
She continued: “I was willing to stay within Division II. For me, the divisions have a title of nothing; they’re just a placement. Really, it was all about the academics. Their master programs within education, especially in equity and social justice, really had it all for me. Also the Bay Area had so much to offer.”
Weems, who is finishing her schooling at Central online, will graduate with a degree in Public Health.
“My original plan was to graduate in June – unfortunately now without a commencement — come back home, live a year without athletics,” she said. “I wanted to take some time before jumping right back into grad school. But this opportunity presented itself to continue without the gap.”