During her time at Northwest Whitfield High School, senior distance runner Shelby Wilson has learned being at her best physically means paying attention to her mental approach, too.
It’s a lesson she hopes to apply even more as a member of the cross country and track and field programs at Kennesaw State University.
A five-time medalist at the Class 4A state track and field meet, Wilson celebrated signing an athletic scholarship with the Owls during a ceremony Tuesday afternoon in the Northwest gymnasium lobby. In addition to her accomplishments on the track, Wilson was a top runner on the trail the past four seasons for the Lady Bruins, earning three selections and one honorable mention to The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Cross Country Team.
Since her days at New Hope Middle School, Wilson’s natural inclination had been to run fast and out front. But she admitted that caught up to her in high school — and so did runners who managed their pace better on the track.
“I definitely think I’ve improved in my strategy,” Wilson said. “I used to be one of those that would just go out and run it. I didn’t think about why I was running. There was no thought process. I would just go out and run.”
Northwest cross country coach Tom Sell, who also coached Wilson all three years in cross country and track at New Hope, recalled telling the sixth-grade version of her to approach a pair of track races at the county championship by staying on the leader’s heels only to be told, “Oh no, I run out front.” Sell took the answer as neither disrespectful nor stubborn, though, believing it was the sign of an intense competitor who would give her best.
She also made her argument convincing by winning both races wire-to-wire.
While Sell believes Wilson’s promise lies more in track than cross country at the next level, he was happy to have her for four years. Her highlights in the sport included running a 20:10 5K as a sophomore and helping the Lady Bruins qualify for the Class 4A championship this past season, the team’s first trip to the state meet since 2007.
“She’s very sweet but she has a very fierce competitive side,” Sell said. “You talk to her and she’s giggling, but when she steps onto a track or a course, it’s one of those things that takes place. I knew she was pretty special. She has so much potential. I look forward to seeing her at the next level.”
On the track, Wilson enjoyed even more success. For that sport, she is a three-time member of The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Spring Team — this year’s team has not been selected — and was the All-Area Girls Spring Athlete of the Year as a freshman, when she placed seventh in both the 800-meter run and the 1,600 at the Class 4A state. Her other state medals came during the past two seasons as she took fifth in the 800 as a junior and was fourth in the 800 and second in the 1,600 this past week.
But it took the return of former Lady Bruins distance standout Shelley Rickett (formerly Taylor) as a coach during the 2010-11 school year to help Wilson realize there was more to racing than flying to the front, hanging on and hoping for the best. Rickett was the distance coach for Northwest’s boys and girls track teams in 2011 and headed up the girls program this season. She also worked with girls cross country the past two seasons.
It wasn’t until Wilson’s junior track season that Rickett was able to convince her there were as many benefits to racing smart as there were to racing hard. She has no doubt that Wilson can continue to enjoy success and get even better.
“It’s been so fun to watch her grow,” Rickett said. “I told her at the state meet this go-round that I knew she was a different runner than when we met two years ago. Her confidence and her presence, all of that was different.”
Wilson said Rickett’s detailed explanations helped her understand the need to change, and now she’s looking forward to even more intensive workouts at Kennesaw State, where she’ll train year-round by running both indoor and outdoor track in addition to cross country. She plans to study physical therapy and believes her experience with the Owls will be good preparation for her career.
She also considered Brewton-Parker College, Dalton State College and the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga before a campus visit in April convinced her she would fit best at Kennesaw State. The Owls’ cross country team, which is coached by Ryan Wagner, finished fourth in the Atlantic Sun Championship and 21st at the NCAA South Regional last year. The Owls’ track team, which is coached by Andy Eggerth, finished third in the Atlantic Sun Indoor Championship and claimed a runner-up finish in the conference’s outdoor championship.
Wilson said she looks forward to focusing on trimming her 800 time in college and hopes she might even have a chance at competing in the 400 with a bit of training.
As to what she’ll remember most fondly about high school competition, it’s less about where she finished and how she got there.
“Using the ability that God gave me to glorify him,” Wilson said. “... Second place (at state), yes that gives me satisfaction now, but in 10 years, no one is going to remember, ‘She got second.’ But I know I’ll remember I ran that for God and not for myself.”