Few spectacles at the FHSAA Class 3A state track finals on Friday will command more awe than Dillard’s tall and graceful 400-meter sprinter Shakima Wimbley separating from the pack with her long, loping strides.
Wimbley’s elongated steps should put her within striking distance of the state record, but it won’t cover the distance she has traveled dealing with a nervous condition that threatened her All-American career.
A year removed from battling a bout of anxiety before the starting gun went off in the 400 state finals and ultimately finishing second, Wimbley will return to the University of North Florida track better equipped to deal with her condition.
“This season it’s been all about me staying relaxed,” Wimbley said. “Last season, I let my nerves get to me a lot. I threw up before meets, and when I warmed up I felt sluggish, lightheaded and nervous. It was bizarre. It wasn’t supposed to be that serious. It was just my nerves kicking in for me wanting to win that bad.”
Wimbley’s long strides, competitiveness, along with incredible speed on the straightaway has made her the decided favorite in the 400, her signature race.
To take down the hallowed 400 mark (52.51) Sanya Richards set in 2002, Wimbley will have to eclipse the personal-best 53.67 she ran to win the BCAA title.
“I would like to break the state record, but the ultimate goal is to set a new personal best and just run as fast as I can,” Wimbley said. “The 400 has become my signature race. It has toughened me up mentally and physically. I used to be afraid of getting tired. Now, I look forward to running it and fighting it. ”
In the 200, Wimbley enters as the No. 3 seed (23.80) behind Clermont East Ridge freshman Kaylin Whitney, the favorite, and Hallandale’s Regine Williams, a longtime rival.
While Wimbley has made significant progress coping with prerace jitters her personal coach Davidson Gill said she is still a work in progress.
“It is still tough sometimes getting Shakima to calm down, but I think the worst is behind her,” Gill said. “The fact she deals with her nerves better now is testament to the work she put in. She is already running on a high college level. If Shakima keeps developing it’s the Olympics and beyond for her.”
Since last season’s state finals, Wimbley received a confidence boost when University of Miami coach Amy Deem, the 2012 U.S. women’s Olympics track coach, made a personal visit to Wimbley’s home to offer a college scholarship Wimbley accepted.
Wimbley also credits her turnaround to the positive reinforcement she receives from Jamika Glades, her former teammates, Gill and her brother Joshua, who won the 400 state title in 2005.
“I just try to focus more and think positive about everything,” Wimbley said. “Instead of getting nervous, I just tell myself people are here to watch me do good and don’t worry about the next person. Just go out there and do my best and have fun and don’t take it as life and death if I lose. That’s all it is to it.”