To say Roy Jiang is a busy guy may be something of an understatement.
For most high-school students, to excel at just one thing – be it athletics, music, art, or academics – takes an inordinate amount of focus, time and energy.
Jiang, however, has carved out time to master not just one, but three different disciplines: track-and-field, music and academics. And the Grade 12 Southridge School student will soon be taking all three to the post-secondary level – at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech).
Jiang, a runner with the South Surrey-based Ocean Athletics track-and-field club, will run sprint distances at CalTech – anything from 60- to 200-metres are his preferred distances, he said – while also playing clarinet in the school’s symphony orchestra. In the classroom, he plans to study bio-engineering, “with a focus on pre-med.”
Presumably, he will also find at least a little time to sleep.
And though the schedule may seem daunting, Jiang – who took up the clarinet after completing his Royal Conservatory diploma in piano – doesn’t see it that way. Instead, he considers running and playing music as “down-time” activities, as opposed to something he has to do.
“I love all three things. I love my studies – I find biology and engineering super fascinating. And with track, I’ve done it since Grade 5 and it’s always been this break in my day where I just get to chill, shut up my mind and just run,” he explained. “With music, it’s kind of the same. It’s an opportunity for me to just look inward and focus on myself, and I don’t have to worry about anything else.
“Maybe I should be worried about balancing everything (at university) but I feel like the way I treat them, I should be OK. I feel like I definitely need to do the other two things to balance out how hard the academics will probably end up being.”
As for choosing CalTech – which, Jiang said, accepts qualified students but does not issue scholarships – the South Surrey student explained the process “had been in the works for awhile.”
He was accepted into the Pasadena school back in December, but took some time to weigh his options, which included acceptance into the Ivy League’s Brown University, as well as the University of B.C., which Jiang noted “did offer quite a bit of money academically.”
Not being able to visit the CalTech campus in person due to COVID-19 restrictions and the associated quarantine rules and border closures also threw a wrench into his plans, although Jiang said he did soak up as much information about the school online as was possible – including watching a drone fly-over video of the campus.
And while making the decision without ever stepping foot on campus wasn’t ideal, it was simply the latest in a long line of challenges he – and other student-athletes – have faced during the pandemic.
For Jiang, the biggest difficulties were track-and-field related. Specifically, finding a way to stay in shape with gyms closed for much of the last year.
“Running is one thing – and I absolutely love that we can still run and train outdoors together as team, but missing the gym was something that was hard,” he said. “Doing gym workouts are super vital for your strength, and all the non-technical stuff – just your raw power output. And I could definitely feel that the fact we didn’t have a gym had really taken a toll on my power and my performance.”
In the absence of the gym, Jiang made due with what he had – even if he parents weren’t onboard with his first idea, which was to use a pull-up bar at home.
“One thing I loved about the gym was the pull-up bar. It was just a really easy to get a full-body strength workout in. But my parents weren’t OK with me putting a pull-up bar in the door frame, because they knew i would probably break it,” he said.
Instead, they reached a compromise, and Jiang took a step ladder down to the basement, and placed a crowbar across the steps, essentially forming the letter ‘A’ – and giving the teen a makeshift pull-up bar.
“It got the job done,” he said, adding that no injuries or household damage followed.
That said, with gyms now reopened – with restrictions in place – he has retired the ladder and returned to a more professional setup.
“I can rest easy now knowing that everything I do is perfectly safe,” he said.
With weather improving and track season – or what passes for a season amid the ongoing pandemic – ramping up, Jiang said he’s happy continue both his studies and his training as he gears up for a move south later this year. Last month, Ocean Athletics held a members-only meet that Jiang said really got his competitive juices flowing again.
“It wasn’t quite the same as racing against… other clubs, but I appreciated the opportunity,” he said. “It was nice to get back into the blocks and get that competition feeling.”
And with just a few more weeks left of high-school exams, he said he’ll soon start charting a course for California.
“Maybe in a few more weeks, it’ll all set in (that I’m leaving),” he said. “I’ve been here practically my whole life… and everything changes once I move down there. Everything will be new.”