Catonsville senior Zoey Whittington ran what's believed… (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun…)
Zoey Whittington, a multiple-season, All-Metro sprinter at Catonsville, won her third straight state title in the 400-meter dash Saturday. Her best time is believed to be the fifth-fastest by a high school girl in the United States this spring. She also anchored the Comets' gold medal-winning 1,600 relay team.
As a guard in basketball, the senior averaged 16 points, five steals and four assists, and earned Most Valuable Player honors for her side at the Baltimore City-County Senior All-Star Game. In her only indoor track season as a sophomore, Whittington won two state titles and set a state Class 3A meet record in the 500. The past two summers, her Ed Waters Track Club 1,600relay team has won gold at the Amateur Athletic Union nationals in national-record time.
With parents in the military, Whittington, 18, spent eight years in Wasilla, Alaska, before returning to the Baltimore area three years ago. She accepted a full scholarship to run at Pittsburgh over many other offers, including from Oregon, Oklahoma, Cincinnati and Jacksonville. She has a 3.29 GPA and plans to become an orthopedic surgeon.
How did you get started playing sports?
When I was 4 or 5, we lived in Texas and I had an energy problem, my parents said (laughs), and I would get in trouble in school, so before and after school, they'd take me out and run just to calm me down. When we moved back to Baltimore, we were driving my mom to work and we went past (the Ed Waters Track Club). They took me there one day, and they just kept me going there every day. I was 5.
Do you remember the first race you won?
Yes. It was when I was with Ed Waters, and it was the (400-meter relay). The first two years running track and field, I used to come in dead last. I stopped during the race and picked flowers and stuff (laughs). I'd get distracted. My mom would be screaming, and my dad would just walk away. In that relay, they had placed the girls against the guys, and the boys had gone to nationals and won and the girls were just kind of in the shadows. It was like the perfect day, the perfect race and we beat them. I was the anchor person, and I remember taking off and the boy was super, super-fast. I remember hearing footsteps behind me and looking at my mom, and she's like, "Go, baby! Go!" That was the first race that I won.
Why didn't you play basketball your sophomore year?
My freshman summer, we went to Nike nationals for track, and that's where I ran my fastest split for track, a 54.6 in the 4x4. Me and my coach talked a long time, and he was saying, "Since you came from Alaska, you need to be recognized nationally if you want to go to college for track and field." He said, "Just doing one indoor season of track will get you where you need to be," so we decided to do one indoor season just to try it out, and it actually ended up working really well.
Did you miss basketball?
Yeah. I missed it so much. In indoor track, there's so few facilities that you can go to. You run at the same places over and over and over again. In basketball, you get to go to different schools and meet different people. I still went to the games, and when I would see Coach Mike (Mohler), I would turn my head a little bit when he looked at me (laughs).
What was your biggest race this spring?
I would say the 400 in states. Yeah, I had won it the past two years, but being a senior and knowing you have a full ride to college, it's hard to stay determined and to say you have to keep on going and keep on going. The 400, that's a difficult race. You can go to a meet in the 100 and 200 and be fine, but once you run the 400, it's just a whole different mindset, and I know there are people out there working just as hard as I am. Since I did miss the indoor season, they've upped the ante on me. Winning it again let me know I worked hard, and I felt really good.
What's your favorite event?
The 4x4. That's my favorite because teamwise, I feel like when you run the 4x4 you run harder for your team than yourself. The 4x4 this year, there were just a lot emotions when we ran it. That was our last time running together.
What was it like for you moving to Alaska in 2000 and trying to adjust?
It was difficult because I came from a school where it was all African-American kids and went to Alaska, where it was a smaller town, Wasilla. Going to a place where it was like two or three black kids in the school, it was hard to really maintain who I was and just stay in tune with everything and how they do their things way different than Baltimore did.
How much did sports help you?
Sports helped a lot. They had a Boys and Girls Club, and they were really big on extracurricular activities with the kids, so they would almost force the kids to do sports. I feel like I got more friends through sports, getting to know people better and becoming a stronger person.
What other activities are you involved in at school?
I'm part of the Rising Scholars. It's a program that helps minorities stay on top of their schoolwork, get to college and just mentor other minorities. I'm also a part of the National Art Honor Society. I do mosaics.
What are your plans for the summer?
I'm still going to run for the Ed Waters Track Club. And helping out the younger people. Just getting ready for college really. Every now and then I'll probably go to the beach. And senior week.
What role do you think sports has played in making you the person you are today?
I think it's made me have more confidence in myself overall and just really confidence, leadership and getting to know who I am as a person. You also have a lot of opportunities in getting to know different people and getting to go different places.