By Tony Aiello

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) –The pandemic has added a layer of complexity to events large and small, including a track and field competition at the Armory in Washington Heights.

As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reports, young athletes are back in action after a long pandemic pause earlier this year.

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The bang of a starter gun is the sound that signals a welcome day of top competition — the Marine Corps Holiday Classic at the Armory.

The pandemic presented many hurdles for high school track and field stars.

“It’s definitely been hard. We don’t know if our program is gonna get shut down for a week or two. When you can’t practice with your team, our performance really suffers,” said John Vitucci, of Susan Wagner High School.

It’s the second pandemic for the 110-year-old Armory after the Spanish Flu of 1918.

Earlier this year, the pandemic canceled the site’s premiere indoor track event, the Millrose Games. The Armory was being used for a different kind of “shot putting” — as in putting shots in more than 100,000 arms over four months as a vaccine center.

With a restart of competition, layers of precautions include double vaccine and mask mandates, constant surface sanitizing and open windows to promote healthy air flow.

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“We have gone from being the ‘fastest track in the world’ to being known as the ‘coldest track in the world’ now,” said Armory Foundation co-president Rita Finkel.

Finkel is amazed at the spirit shown by athletes who have powered through pandemic challenges.

“I couldn’t be around my team, so I just, like, did workouts around my block,” said Birnesha Derrick-Bain, of Bishop Loughlin High School. “No matter your obstacle, I think you should still get what you can out of the situation.”

“It’s dedication, it’s determination, it’s discipline, and they have all those qualities that they can really apply to anything in their lives,” Finkel said.

There’s hope the pandemic finish line is in sight.

“We made it through. That’s the main thing. And why we made it through is because of all the people that worked together to try to get things done,” said Coach Michael Graham, of Elmont Memorial High School.

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Five athletes went home with awards from the marines for balanacing athletics and academics. They attend Bronx Science, Mount Vernon, Valley Stream South, Baldwin and Elmont Memorial high schools.

Tony Aiello