Photo by Craig Amoss
Many cross country and track and field athletes enter the sport during high school, often times as a freshman with nothing else to do or an athlete looking to stay in shape. Track and field often attracts the best athletes from other sports - ones that never would have envisioned excelling in another sport before stepping on the track for the first time.
Clarksburg freshman Jahmei Wyatt is not one of those athletes.
On the other end of the spectrum, many kids are jumping into the sport at younger ages in elementary and middle school. As a freshman this winter, Jahmei Wyatt immediately jumped to the top of the freshman leaderboards in a wide range of events, and those involved in the club track scene in the state probably recognized the name.
As an eighth grader last summer, Wyatt ran 2:20.59 in the 800, qualifying to compete at the USATF National Junior Olympics. From the 400 (60.94) to the 1500 (5:10.08) Wyatt had long established herself as one of the top Maryland runners in her class before entering high school. After a strong cross country season with the Coyotes, Wyatt began racking up the quality performances (1:19.49 500, 2:24.34 800, 5:25.99 1600). Although her season ended prematurely, she still finished near the top of the freshmen leaderboards in many events across the board.
MileSplit MD caught up with one of the brightest stars in the class of 2021.
MileSplit MD: When did you first step into the world of track and field? Why did you choose the sport?
Jahmei Wyatt: When I was eight, and yes I chose track. I tried soccer, ballet and tap prior to track but had the urge to run all the while. I quit soccer because of the number of times I was smacked in the face with the ball and I lost my desire for dance. At the time my parents and I weren't aware that there were track clubs for kids under high school age. When we found out that this did exist, it felt right to me. I started running for the Titans in the 9-10 age group.
MS: You competed with the Firebirds Track Club for many years before running in high school. What was that experience like, training with high school athletes? What were you able to pick up from the sport while being around some of the best high school runners in the area every year?
JW: When I started running for the Firebirds I wasn't placing times worth saying anything. So being around some the best left me on the outside. I didn't get as much attention from the coaches since the club was so big so I had to grind to try and catch up to my competitors. We're all very competitive so once I "caught up" to them they would work extra hard to stay in the lead. It's like a chain. Me working hard caused them to work hard, then them working hard makes me work even harder. Besides the physical aspect, I've always looked up to these girls, they've helped me become the athlete I am today. From them, I first learned how to prepare for a race, how to be part of a relay team, race strategy, to never underestimate the competition and more.
Wyatt and teammate Alyssa McCloskey. (Photo by Craig Amoss)
MS: You competed in a wide range of events in club track before high school. Do you have a favorite event? Has that favorite event changed over time?
JW: Right now my favorite event is the 800, hands down. When I first started with the Titans I didn't like any of my events (the 55, 200 and 400) because I wasn't making times in any of them and they required a lot of speed endurance that I didn't have at the time. Prior to starting with the Firebirds my first coach, Coach Edward Badoo, suggested that I run the 800. When I first started with Firebirds my dad forced me to run it; I ran my first 800 and fell in love. It was aggressive, I could make time easier and I could outsprint people who would otherwise outsprint me in the 200 and 400.
MS: Had you ever run cross country before this fall? If not, what difference between the two sports struck you the most?
JW: In eighth grade I ran with the Bethesda Track Club for the cross country season. I ran few meets but went to the practices to stay in shape.
MS: Your cross country team (Clarksburg) had a very strong fall season, finishing seventh at the Montgomery County Championships and qualifying for the state meet from the most difficult region in the state. Three of your top four runners this season were either freshmen or sophomores. Have you guys thought about how far this group could go in the coming years? What do you feel the expectations will be like heading into next fall?
JW: We definitely surprised ourselves last season. Naturally we thought about how much farther we could go in the coming years, with the top runners we have and two other freshmen running times close to two of our seniors. However, I'm not sure what expectations we will have going into the next season.
MS: You ran your final races of the season this winter on January 20th. Was there an injury that happened afterwards?
JW: I wasn't injured, but stopped running to prevent any type of injury. Prior to the Armory meet [on January 20th] coach assessed my form and found major errors in it. He advised that I work with him as soon as possible to correct them. Running as hard as I was, with those errors, would have resulted in injury so I had to stop. Come summertime I'll be back out there again on the club circuit, preparing for my sophomore year.
MS: So it sounds like you're not going to run outdoor track? Is that just part of the injury precaution, or another sport commitment?
JW: Injury precaution.
MS: Even [considering you missed the last month] you still finished the season as the #3 Maryland freshman in the 500 and #4 in both the 800 and the 1600. Did you see yourself making that big of an immediate impact heading into the winter?
JW: Not really. I try not to focus on comparing myself to others but set high goals in hopes of being among the best. When I do compare myself, though, I do it with my Firebirds cohorts and all classes as a whole, instead of just freshmen.
MS: Clarksburg High School has only been around since 2006 and you already hold school records in the 500 and 1000. How does it feel knowing that you have an opportunity to set marks that future Clarksburg runners can strive to match?
JW: It feels good to leave my mark.
MS: How did you handle coming into the cross country season after a full summer of racing? Is it something you feel like you will keep doing for the next couple of years?
JW: It was a tough transition at first. I wanted to rest after summer track and didn't expect to run anything more than three miles. I got used to the mileage after a while though. I'm not sure if I'll continue with cross country in the coming years.
Photo by Don Rich
MS: Excelling in everything from the 500 to the 1600, which events do you usually find yourself focusing on more during training? What type of workouts do you enjoy the most?
JW: I focus on the 500 and the 800 during indoor, and 400 and 800 during outdoor. I enjoy 800 meter pace workouts since they give me the most confidence when I go to race.
Favorite pre-race meal: If we're talking about breakfast, then a banana and bagel with lox.
T & F event you've always wanted to try: I've always wanted to try pole vault.
Funniest teammate (club or school): Ever Elegon.
Favorite place to run: I love to run around my neighborhood.
Favorite pro sports team/athlete: Allyson Felix and Sydney McLaughlin (although she didn't go pro).