High school track athlete collapses at finish line after being forced to wear a face mask
05/11/2021 // Arsenio Toledo // Views

A high school track and field athlete in Oregon collapsed after not being able to breathe properly due to her face mask. She was forced to wear a mask despite track and field being an outdoor sport because of the state's Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) mask mandate.

On Thursday, April 22, Maggie Williams, a junior at Summit High School in Bend, Oregon, broke her school record in the 800-meter race. But her triumph was overshadowed by the fact that she passed out as soon as she crossed the finish line.

As Williams was about seven meters away from the finish line, she recalls feeling like she was not able to breathe.

"I felt like I just wasn't being able to get a full breath," she said to local television station KTVZ. "Multiple times of that happening, not being able to get enough air – I just felt super dizzy, and then eventually passed out."

She found out later that she broke her high school's 800-meter race record. Her run time was two minutes, eight seconds and 45 milliseconds. The school's previous record was set in 2019 and it was two minutes, 10 seconds and 54 milliseconds.

"I found out a couple minutes after my race, when I had recovered from my fall. So super exciting for me."

Williams believes her mask caused her to pass out

Both Williams and her coach blame the incident on her face mask, and on the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) for requiring athletes to still wear it even for outdoor and non-contact sports. (Related: Oregon's OSHA wants to make coronavirus mask mandate and social distancing rules permanent.)


"In the past, this has never happened," she said. "Then this race that I was wearing a mask, it did happen, which I don't think is a coincidence."

Her coach, Dave Turnbull, agrees with her. In his 31 years of experience as a track and field coach, he is confident that the issue here isn't a lack of training or conditioning – it's the mask.

Turnbull explained that Williams was previously able to run an 800-meter race in two minutes and eleven seconds in Arizona without a mask on. From his experience, a three-second difference should not cause an athlete to fall unconscious.

"When you're in a mask, it certainly does," he said. "It was a different response than I've seen for kids that have collapsed to the track just because they were exhausted. She wasn't sure where she was."

OHA bowed to pressure and updated mask guidelines for athletes

On Monday, April 26, OHA relented to pressure from athletes and released a new set of guidelines.

The new guidance will allow athletes engaged in non-contact sports to remove their masks during the competition.

"We are revising the current guidance on the use of masks outdoors during competition," said the OHA in a statement. "The guidance will allow people to take off face coverings when competing in non-contact sports outdoors and maintaining at least six feet of distance from others and the other virus protective protocols."

Although the OHA has now allowed athletes to take off their masks during a competition, the health authority still said masks are required during practice.

"The exception will not apply while training and conditioning for these sports or for competitions," added the OHA in its statement. Furthermore, athletes will be required to put their masks back on immediately after the competition.

Before the new rule was announced, Turnbull was considering not letting his athletes compete in races as an act of protest. Now, even though the exception for athletes is still restrictive, both he and Williams are happy with the OHA's decision.

"I feel like we're offering a safe activity for kids now," he said.

In a text, Williams wrote: "I'm very excited that some good can come out of this situation."

Learn more about how Oregon has some of the most restrictive mask rules in the country by reading the latest articles at Pandemic.news.

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