Like every other graduating high school senior across Long Island, June has been a crazy month for Ward Melville’s track and field sensation Abigail Sasson.
Between the graduation parties, final exams, prom, commencement ceremonies and saying goodbye to teachers and friends, high school’s final moments are a uniquely special time.
However, Sasson’s June was perhaps crazier and a little more memorable than most.
On Father’s Day weekend, Abbi, as she is known to friends, family and teammates, had the opportunity to compete as a high jumper at the 2023 Nike Outdoor National Championships held at the University of Oregon in Eugene.
Hayward Field, Oregon’s home arena, is considered hallowed ground for the sport of track and field. Nike co-founder Phil Knight is an alumnus, ran the mile for the school decades ago and since becoming a captain of industry has always had a vested interest in preserving the venue as a track and field mecca. Running stars Alberto Salazar, Keshia Baker and Steve Prefontaine were all Oregon Ducks, and this place is the track equivalent to Cooperstown or Canton.
This pilgrimage was a fitting way for the Nebraska native, who moved to Setauket when she was 10 years old, to finish off her storied career as a Lady Patriot. In wet conditions, Sasson was not able to clear 4 feet, 10½ inches in her three attempts, but for her, it was a personal victory in making the trip and earning the experience of performing on such a grand stage.
“At first it was jarring to be in such a huge and famous stadium in front of so many people, but it was great to compete against the best athletes in the country and in a setting that is so beautiful,” said Sasson, who made the 2,900-mile journey with her mom Lise. “This was the last meet of my high school career and to be able to do it at nationals in Oregon was an absolutely amazing experience that I will never forget.”
Back home in Setauket, Sasson is so much more than a high jumper, and she wears a lot of hats — as well as a lot of different shoes — for the Ward Melville track and field program. She excels at the pentathlon, which combines the 100-meter hurdles, long jump, high jump, shotput and the 800-meter run. Abbi is the reigning Suffolk champion for pentathlon, capturing the gold at the Section XI Championship at Commack this past May after winning silver as a junior in 2022. The versatile Sasson has earned all-county or all-league honors for triple jump, high jump and long jump in her career at Ward Melville and has been named as a Suffolk Scholar-Athlete all four years of high school.
“Since the eighth grade, Abbi has shown great ability to do multiple events,” said Ward Melville girls track and field head coach J.P. Dion. “She is an extremely bright kid who retains everything she is taught and loves to pass that information on to the younger kids. But in addition to being a great athlete and leader, I think the really special thing about Abbi is her heart.”
Dion has a lot of company feeling in this way.
Last week, Sasson was presented the 2023 Ward Melville Spirit, Leadership and Cooperation Award, which was voted on by the entire Patriot athletic department. Abbi’s success on the track alone might have been enough to merit this award, but she won it while having to overcome a goodly dose of adversity, which was dealt to her just weeks into her senior year.
In October of 2022, Abbi was driving on Route 347, just south of Stony Brook University, when she was slammed from behind by another vehicle. Sasson suffered whiplash and a concussion, the effects of which she still feels today. She missed a chunk of school in the fall and was not allowed to compete for about six weeks. Although the injury made it difficult for her to read and she was not allowed to run or jump, it did not stop her from attending track practice.
“It was tough because I had to make up all my tests and get my college applications in before deadline,” Sasson said. “But I also wanted to meet my new teammates and help the coaches any way I could. It was cold, but I didn’t mind. Being around the track is always my favorite part of the day.”
One of these teammates was junior and fellow pentathloner Kate Woods.
“Abbi is like my track mom and anytime I had low self-confidence, she was always the first person by my side and cheering me up even when she was not able to compete,” Woods said. “I genuinely don’t know if I would have been able to accomplish everything I accomplished this year without Abbi. She meant so much to the whole track team because she always found the positives in all of us. Everyone loves and looks up to Abbi so much.”
Woods was named to the all-county pentathlon team along with Sasson and still has two more years as a Lady Patriot. Sasson will be pre-med at Vassar College in the fall and will be competing as a member of the Vassar Women’s Track and Field team.
But she’ll not soon forget her former Lady Pat teammates and coaches, who have helped shape her into the athlete and person she is today.
“Track, and being a member of this team, is definitely the part of high school that I will miss the most,” she said. “The friends I’ve made on this team are life-long friends and when I’m on break from Vassar, I hope they let me come back to pop in and say hello.”
With all that Sasson has accomplished and contributed to the Ward Melville community, it’s a safe bet that they will.