Shayla Wilson Finds A Home at Kansas

May 18, 2011

051811aaa_944_4696635.jpegWhen Shayla Wilson’s friends first came to her about joining the high school track team her sophomore year, she was somewhat skeptical. She didn’t understand why running around a quarter-mile track could be even remotely fun. She would hesitantly join, but she says it was originally just a way for her to hang out with her friends.

“My friends were begging me to join the team,” Wilson said. “I wasn’t really into it at first. I kept with it because I liked hanging out with my friends.”

As a sophomore at MilfordHigh School in Milford, Del., she began her track career as a hurdler but quickly realized those events were not for her.

“I started out hurdling and it was not that great,” Wilson explained. “We finally got into the indoor season and the coaches started letting me running the open 400 meters. That’s when I really got into it, and really started to fall in love with track.”

It’s a good thing her coaches let her make the switch, because it just so happens she was a natural. She would go on to win the Outdoor Division 2 State Championship in the 400 meters (57.65) and 200 meters (25.48) as a senior and smash the school record in the indoor 400 meters (58.96) and outdoor 400 meters (56.80). Word of her accomplishments quickly spread through the northeast but Wilson knew her college destination would have to be in the South or Midwest.

“I knew once I started getting serious about running in college that all the top collegiate track programs were in the Midwest or the South so I would have to be going far (from home),” said Wilson. “I started doing some research and I saw that the Big 12 was probably the best conference. I sent my information out to all the schools I could, and Coach Redwine called me back. The rest is history.”

With such a big move, it was tough at first for Wilson to get accustomed to the new friends, town and region, but she quickly found help from her new teammates and friends. Veteran sprinters Charity Stowers and Maresia Pencil (seniors at the time) were the first to reach out to Wilson and became mentors to her.

“When I was a freshman Charity (Stowers) and Maresia (Pencil) were two people that I really looked up to,” said Wilson. “I really wanted to try to be as good of a runner as they were. I definitely tried to shadow them as much as I could. They really helped me out a lot that first year.”

Wilson quickly made friends with her teammates, but she says the toughest part of being away from home was never being able to see her family and friends back home. For many KU students, all it takes for a visit home is a quick drive down K-10 to the Kansas City area, but for Wilson, it’s a little more complicated than that.

051811aaa_944_4696634.jpeg“Being from Delaware, it was pretty weird at first because most people who go here can take a weekend trip home and spend time with their families,” said Wilson. “I can’t do that because I’m so far away. The best I can do is call my parents and say ‘hey’ once and a while. That was tough to adjust to at first.”

Also helping her make the adjustment was head coach Stanley Redwine, who spends most of his time working one-on-one with Wilson and the other sprinters. She says her confidence level has increased tremendously since she has been getting instruction from Coach Redwine.

“Working with him has been great,” said Wilson of Coach Redwine. “He has really shown me that I’m stronger than I thought I was. Since coming to college I’ve been moved up to the 600 meters and the 800 meters. I never thought I could run races that long. Coach Redwine has definitely given me the confidence that I can run those races and be good at them, too.”

Redwine has also given Wilson a new-found love for competition. This year, as a junior, her recent string of performances have proven that she thrives in the most competitive of environments. In February at the Big 12 Indoor Championships she moved up to fourth in the KU record books for the 600 yard run (1:20.48). She also helped her relay teams reel off several top finishes in the past indoor and outdoor seasons, including a third-place finish in the 4X400 meter relay at the 2011 Big 12 Indoor Championships.

“I love competing, those are the best times,” explained Wilson. “I’m not going to lie-practices are tough. I really wish I could just compete without practicing. I really love watching and competing with my teammates because I love cheering them on and watching them do well.”

As one of the few upperclassmen sprinters on this year’s team, Wilson has had to taken on a leadership role with her younger teammates, especially those who join her on the 4X400 meter relay team.

“I think we all definitely have a good relationship,” Wilson said of her 4X400 relay teammates. “We all know that we can depend on each other to run well together. I think that’s what helps us get through it, we all know that everyone is going to give it their all.”

051811aaa_944_4449536.jpegThat team would take third-place at the indoor conference meet in February but the ultimate prize still awaits as they will be competing in next week’s west regional preliminary meet in Eugene, Ore., for the right to go to the NCAA Championships in the second week of June. The women, especially Wilson, know they still have a lot of work to do.

“I definitely want us to be able to lower our time in the 4X400 relay so we can get through to nationals,” Wilson explained of her goals for the remainder of the season. “We scored at nationals in indoor so we definitely want to be able to do that again and score higher. We are going to need to drop some time and hopefully we’ll have what it takes.”

Wilson has come a long way since arriving to Lawrence three-and-a-half years ago as a homesick freshman. She has created life-long friends on and off the track. She has grown into a leader and has made huge strides in her own athletic improvement. With the start of her senior season just months away, she has begun to take stock of all she has gained in her time at KU.

“I’ve made so many great friends on and off the team and a ton of great memories,” Wilson concluded. “I really love being here and I feel at home now.”