The track season is over and Rachael Muma has a new routine.
She gets up early in the morning so she can get to campus when it's empty. She then goes to the Spoke Cafe and orders a medium roast coffee and a bagel with cream cheese – her favourite. Then she sets up shop in a booth by the window.
Next year, Rachael is unsure if this will continue. She might not be back at Western. She's completed her education, and will be graduating this spring with a business degree.
But her athletic career could continue. Canadian Interuniversity Sport athletes can compete for up to five years and the Western track star – who won a silver medal at the Ontario championships this year and a bronze at nationals – is still wrestling with the decision.
"As far as a fifth year goes, it’s a big decision to make because you put a lot of other things on hold," Rachael says. "But it's a unique opportunity to be an athlete because track is one of those sports where once you make the decision that you’re done, you’re pretty much done."
If Rachael decides to extend her CIS track career, she would need to train hard this summer in order to reach her goals next season. Those goals include improving upon this year's CIS results: a bronze medal in the women's 4 x 200 metre relay, a fourth place finish in the 4 x 400 metre relay and eighth place finish overall in the women's 300 metre race.
"Summer track and field is a different animal," she says. "Competing for Western is awesome and fun – you have your team cheering you on and you’re in it together ... but in the summer you’re very much an independent athlete."
Western's track and field team has roughly 100 athletes, which is a sharp contrast to training in the summer with one or two others.
In fact, being part of the Western community is a highlight for Rachael. Looking back on her university career, the team aspect is what stands out.
"This year in the CIS I felt like I was running for way more than just myself. You’re running for Western and I'm always always running for my coaches," she says. "I don’t know what to call it or how to describe it but it’s that feeling of doing something for something bigger than yourself.”
As the anchor on the four-person relay teams, Rachael has the opportunity to be the one to cross the finish line. She recalls what it was like at the OUA's, when Western's team of herself, Jen Barbon, Joy Spear Chief-Morris and Sarah Clancy took silver in the 4 x 200 relay.
"I just knew, by the time I got the baton, I just knew what I had to do," she says. "I just pretty much hammered it down for upwards of 24, 25 seconds."
"The atmosphere is so intense," she adds. "You have those hand-offs that need to be extremely accurate — like we’re talking hundredths of a second."
Rachael is honoured to play the role of anchor. In the Olympics, teams usually put their fastest runners at the end. When Rachael first came to Western, she thought her anchor days were over. But she earned the spot and has loved every second of it.
Rachael makes it clear that the anchor is simply part of a team. In fact, the relay is the only team event in track and field.
"I think my job is the easiest," she says. "By the time you get to the fourth runner there’s very little ... you can do at that point as the fourth runner. Your team kind of sets you up for success or failure."
While Rachael sits on her decision to return or not, one thing is clear: the work ethic wouldn't be an issue.
Since the beginning of 2015 the track team competed every single weekend leading up to nationals in March. That's in addition to daily afternoon practice Monday to Friday.
How does she effectively juggle school and daily practice?
"I don't know how you don't do it," she says, laughing. "Track has been great for time management because it forces you to use that hour or two hours you might use throughout the day way more efficiently."
Whether she is using those time management skills here at Western or somewhere else next year is unclear right now, but before long Rachael will be forced to make a decision.