Keeping pace part of the run

Track and field: The parents of Towson Catholic's Devon and Rokesha Williams want to make sure their daughters aren't run into the ground.

High Schools

January 20, 2004|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

Since the day Devon Williams ran 600 meters faster than any other freshman girl ever has, the phone at her Parkville home has been ringing off the hook.

Folks at USA Track and Field and at Nike want the Towson Catholic freshman to appear at their meets. They want her to race some of the nation's other top high school girls. They want to see more records.

Devon is in demand, but her parents, Paulette and Robert Williams, have just one answer for the promoters: not yet.

"We're not interested," Paulette Williams said. "We don't want Devon to be a 14-year-old going up against 17- and 18-year-olds in major meets at this time. If that's supposed to happen, the time will come."

For now, the Williamses want to keep Devon's flying feet on the ground.

That's easier said than done, because in the past month, Devon has run the fastest times in the country this season at 600 meters and the mile, according to the high school track Web site Dyestat.com.

Three weeks ago, she ran 600 meters in 1 minute, 30.22 seconds at the Metropolitan Athletics Congress High School Classic at the 168th Street Armory in New York. That set a national freshman record and was the third-fastest time ever by a U.S. high school girl.

On Jan. 10, Devon ran a mile in 4:50.76 at the Hispanic Games in New York, qualifying her for the prestigious Millrose Mile at the Millrose Games at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 6.

Her 1,000-meter time of 2:45.86 stood as the fastest time in the country for a month, until two girls edged her out this past weekend.

The kids at Towson Catholic call Devon "the fastest girl in the world," said her sister Rokesha, an equally talented junior who beat Devon in their only meeting this season, a 300-meter race in an Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland meet. They will both compete at Friday's IAAM championship meet at the Prince George's County Sports & Learning Complex.

Despite Devon's star status, the Williamses seem to understand that pace is every bit as important as speed in a young runner's career.

Rokesha, 16, spent the past year and a half recovering from a spate of injuries - a groin strain, knee problems, two pulled hamstrings and back spasms - more from bad luck than overtraining. She is slowly returning to racing, and the Williamses want to do all they can to keep their daughters on a steady, even training course.

Last fall, the Williamses and the girls' coach, Dion Hylton, mapped out a plan for Devon's indoor track season. They chose some high-profile meets and some smaller meets. They don't plan to deviate much now, although they may opt to go to the Millrose Games.

"We can't change what we've started," said Hylton, who is also the Towson Catholic coach. "When you start going to everybody's meet because they want you there, that's when you start running yourself into the ground. Everybody knows her and everybody wants her, but she's only 14. You have to protect her a little bit."

Despite their youth, Devon and Rokesha are well-known on the national track scene. Both have won Junior Olympic titles almost every year since they started training with Hylton when Rokesha was 7.

Rokesha started running at 6 1/2 , when her mother was a volunteer coach at her alma mater, Dunbar. Devon followed her sister onto the track a few years later.

"I would go to track practice, and they would tell me to sit down," Devon said. "When I was little, track wasn't an issue. I just wanted to go out and play around with the older kids."

Initially, there may have been an added incentive behind Devon's desire to run faster than everyone else.

"The kids would run hard and come back for the Gatorade and juice and apples, and Devon would be sitting there eating up everything," Paulette said. "They still laugh about that."

Once Devon started racing, the records started falling. As a 9-year old, she broke a national junior record in the 1,500 meters that had stood for 23 years. A few days later, she broke it again.

Hylton saw that potential early on. So did her parents, but as athletes themselves, they understood how difficult it is to stay healthy, and they did not put pressure on the girls to run. Robert Williams, who had been a McDonald's All-America basketball player in Miami, played football at Eastern Kentucky, where he met his wife, a sprinter on the track team.

Paulette Williams maintained her college track contacts when they scattered across the country after graduation. Now, track meets sometimes seem secondary to the social experience for the girls and their mother, who travels with them to the meets.

"It was never always track," Paulette Williams said. "When we go to a track meet, we don't just go to a track meet. We go to go out. If we go to California, we go days early so we can go to Disney and hang out. We go there, we run and we leave. We don't hang out at track meets. We want to go out to eat, travel and meet people."

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