Brian Olmo | Summer 2023 Sports Director
Andrea Loizidou is a mathematics master’s student and track runner at FIU. She’s from Cyprus – a country just south of Turkey, 6,393 miles from Miami.
The track she runs on is a lot closer, but it’s still a journey to get there.
Despite being the second-largest sport at FIU by participation, men’s and women’s track and field don’t have their own track to practice on campus.
Instead, members of both teams have to commute to Tropical Park, about four miles south of the Modesto Maidique Campus.
Leonarda Farkas, a senior marketing student and a member of both cross country and track and field, described the off-campus trek.
“When we have workouts that actually require a track, we drive to Tropical Park, which is a public track. And that’s also really complicated because sometimes we don’t even have vans to transport all of us to the track,” said Farkas. “Sometimes, it’s 5:30, we’re standing in front of the football stadium, and our coach just tells us ‘Guys, I don’t have any vans today, we need to figure it out.’ And half of the team is international, so we don’t even have cars there.”
Farkas also recounts the time that the team ran into trouble with law enforcement during one of their visits to the Tropical Park track after hours.
“We had to jump the fence. So we got caught by police but then my coach spoke to them, explained that we are the FIU track and field team, and because we don’t have tracks, we practice here.”
Eliseo Torres, an accounting graduate student and a five-year member of the men’s track team, recalls the time that they had to break into the track as well.
“We had to use a trash can in order to jump over,” he said.
Torres also reported instances where the team would be kicked out of the public track entirely.
“There was another time that there was an event at Tropical Park and we had actually warmed up and everything, and then as soon as we finished our warm-up they kicked us out,” Torres said. “It was high school track and field events: it was their meets.”
The administration recognized the need for a track, like in 2019 as part of FIU’s Next Horizons campaign (pages 8 – 9). Nothing’s come of it yet.
Torres and other members of the men’s team have tried to speak to Head Coach Ryan Heberling but to no avail. They then went to Athletic Director Scott Carr, only to be redirected back to their coach by an assistant.
When Loizidou brought up her concerns regarding the lack of a track on campus to senior associate athletic director Julie Berg, she said she was told that there isn’t space for it and any space available was instead being considered for a swimming pool, a facility already located at the Biscayne Bay Campus.
PantherNOW reached out to athletic director Scott Carr along with head coach Ryan Heberling to ask about plans for a new track and possible plans for an MMC pool, as well as to get comments on runners’ issues with facilities and potential plans for improvement.
After multiple requests to their media representatives, reporters were told that the department has no comment at this time.
It’s not just an inconvenience for runners – not having standard facilities on campus presents real issues for athletics.
“Since we don’t have a good stadium, we don’t get to recruit fast people because fast people want to go to a school that has a stadium,” said Loizidou. “They want nice facilities that are going to help them improve.”
Runners say that without a track, recruiting the best talent has been hard.
“We can’t really bring good athletes who are thinking of going professional later in the future to FIU because of our lack of tracks,” said Farkas. “I’ve been talking to some of my teammates from Croatia that want to go to the States and they said ‘Yeah, we’d like to come to FIU, but there’s no track and we can’t really improve.’”
“That’s a big minus for us.”
Beyond the track
The absence of a track to practice on may be the team’s most noticeable issue, but it certainly isn’t their only one.
Track and field athletes also have had to deal with a stretched-thin athletic trainer, along with deteriorating facilities.
“The athletic trainer is excellent,” said Loizidou. “He cares so much about us but at the same time he has so many people to care about and he has so much on his plate.”
Four sports, including track and field, all share the same athletic trainer, Javier Garcia, which has resulted in athletes not having enough time to speak with him.
“There’s more than 100 of us and we have one athletic trainer and with track, there’s always something wrong. We’re always injured and we have problems with this or that and we need treatment. When it’s hundreds of us every day, that’s impossible for one person,” said Farkas.
The underwater treadmill, critical for the rehabilitation of runners who sustained an injury, has been broken for some time now.
“For a while, the ice bath had this weird green color, like the water was green… I couldn’t even take an ice bath because the water wasn’t clean for a while,” said Loizidou. “And also for the runners, in the past, they used to have the treadmill in the water. It broke down like four or five years ago but they never fixed it.”
Farkas and Torres confirmed that the water inside the team’s ice bath was discolored for an extended period of time.
“It’s either not working: it’s not cold or it’s green,” said Farkas.
Further, they don’t even have the freedom to always use it when needed.
“Yeah, they definitely do not take good care of the ice bath,” said Torres. “There was once a whole year it just did not work. So then what you had to do, you have to get tubs and then you have to fill it up manually and then put ice, but the trainers would sometimes say ‘Oh you can’t get too much ice because we need it for football or other sports as well.’”
“It would be a little bit murky sometimes. So even if it was working, it looks like someone peed in it.”
Track and field athletes say they are also often kicked out of the weight room by other teams even when it’s their time to use it.
“Sometimes, the weight room is just packed. Most of the time they’re going to tell us ‘Hey you guys need to move.’ It’s happened multiple times,” said Loizidou. “We might be in there, like 10 people, and it’s our time to use it, and then volleyball or a different team comes in and takes our spots.”
Football has a stadium with a state-of-the-art locker room and a 50,000-square-foot fieldhouse. Basketball has a 94,000-square-foot facility with its own equipment room, academic spaces and 5,000 seats.
In spring 2023, athletics received a $2 million donation from several anonymous donors, including $500,000 from FIU Board of Trustees member Carlos Duart and wife Tina Vidal-Duart, who is a FIU Foundation Board of Directors member.
The money is going towards building a brand-new weight room facility in the Ocean Bank Convocation Center as well as renovating locker rooms.
They’re not track and field locker rooms though – the money is for football locker rooms in the field house.
To reach the women’s track and field locker room, athletes first pass by the locker rooms for men’s and women’s basketball. Both entrances are adorned with images of the team’s all-time great players and are adjacent to a massive trophy case.
After passing those rooms, they’ll find the women’s track and field locker room tucked away in a corner.
Students argue that the treatment they’re receiving isn’t DI level, but more akin to that of a D50 school.
“You don’t get the vibe that it’s a DI school. It doesn’t get you excited, it’s just an old locker room,” said Loizidou.
An independent assessment conducted by Helen Grant Consulting identified the track men’s and women’s locker rooms as areas of concern in their 2022-23 Title IX review of FIU.
Helen Grant 2022-23 Title IX Assessment Summary (Track assessment on page 19 of PDF)
These problems took a mental toll on Loizidou, who was dealing with a foot fracture last spring that sidelined her for a considerable portion of the season.
“I broke down mentally,” said Loizidou. “I’ve been trying so hard because I was in perfect shape before I got injured; I’ve been trying so hard and I got injured and I haven’t been treated right and I’m just going to stop.”
“It’s sad that we have to fight for something we deserve. If we’re asking for a full scholarship, okay, I get it. But you’re fighting for the bare minimum,” said Torres.
Follow Brian Olmo on Twitter at @Brian_Olmo11