WINSTON-SALEM — Sitting in her hotel room in Alabama, Cierra Thompson got a phone call she never expected.
NCAA officials, due to the coronavirus pandemic, had just canceled the season-ending Division II indoor track and field national championship meet.
Her classwork completed for the semester, nationals was the last item to check off on her “to-do” list at Winston-Salem State University. The highly-decorated sprinter felt eager to test her recovery level from an Achilles injury she suffered during a conference meet in February.
Talk about a surreal moment.
“I was like ‘is this really happening…my senior year?’” Thompson said. “I think I handled it pretty well. I just took it as it just wasn’t happening to me, it was happening to everybody. I didn’t look at it from a selfish standpoint, but looked at it as a whole and knowing that this is the safest thing to do, although [it was] the most annoying thing because it was my senior year and it was my last season.
“I just tried to make the best out of it.”
The Southern Wayne alumna punched her ticket to the NCAAs with a season-best performance of 7.54 seconds in the 60-meter dash during the Clemson Opener in December. She headed to Alabama as the No. 1-ranked sprinter from the Atlantic Region.
Though she didn’t get to run toe-to-toe with the nation’s best, Thompson received a surprise that erased some of the bittersweetness from not contending for a national title.
Thompson earned Division II All-American honors from the United States Track & Field/Cross Country Coaches Association last week. She also garnered All-American accolades as a freshman in 2017 when WSSU ended up fifth in the women’s 4x1 relay at the national finals.
“Very surprised, very heartwarming to know that I got something out of not being able to compete,” said Thompson, who is also an Academic All-American in indoor track.
Thompson excelled in basketball during her high school campaign and used track for offseason preparation.
Little did she know she’d flip the script in college.
“It was way more than I expected,” said Thompson, who graduated May 8 with a bachelor of science in health care management. “The culture and the vibe of the school was great, something I loved [and] family oriented. Even though I was three hours from home, it still felt like home.
“It was kind of small, but still big.”
And another place for Thompson to leave her mark.