RCW: Casting a big shadow
With her 5-foot stature and petite frame, senior Whitney Adams may not appear to be the typical track star. However, throughout her four years as a Jayhawk, she has silenced any doubters and established herself as one of the team’s top runners.
Now a seasoned veteran on the Kansas track & field team, Adams was once a high school athlete aspiring to get an offer to play college basketball. She didn’t begin her track career until her junior year of high school when she decided she should run to keep her fitness up for basketball season.
“My first love was basketball, even though I was on the smaller side,” Adams confessed. “I started running track to keep in shape for basketball and then it kind of just took off from there.”
Her speed and athleticism caught the attention of recruiters and she began to receive letters from colleges who wanted her for track. Once she realized her talent had been recognized by others for track instead of basketball, she decided it would probably be in her best interest to focus solely on one sport.
After her junior year at Francis Howell High School in St. Charles, Missouri, she officially traded in her basketball shoes for track spikes. That’s when her passion for running grew even stronger. The more she excelled, the more she realized this was her calling.
Adams’ back-to-back Class 3 & 4 Missouri State 400-meter championships her junior and senior years, along with back-to-back district championships in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 400 meters in 2012-13, added to her impressive resume that made colleges seek her out.
“When you see you’re succeeding in something, you want to continue doing it, and somewhere along the way I fell in love with track,” Adams recalled.
Part of the reason she found track so appealing was that it’s not a sport enjoyed by all. A lot of athletes participate in track for the same reason Adams started – to stay in shape for another sport during the offseason. Running is often viewed as an evil necessity or a punishment, but Adams doesn’t see it that way.
“For every other sport, like football or basketball, the coaches make you run when you do something wrong. So I grew fond of it because track isn’t something everyone can do,” she said. “I’ve also had a lot of fun memories and good times in track that added to my love for the sport.”
Despite being recruited by various colleges around the nation, Adams was still not one of the most highly touted prospects. But Kansas head coach Stanley Redwine knew she was special and would be able to contribute to the Jayhawks’ team the moment he saw her run.
“Her athleticism was really good, as well as her competitiveness,” Redwine said. “She’s a fireplug and that’s what you need on your team.”
Unlike those who emphasize the importance of long, lanky strides, Redwine has never seen Adams’ height as a weakness. He notes the importance of stride rate versus stride length, and believes that stride length has no effect when it comes to Adams’ speed.
“Stride length versus stride rate is something that people talk about all the time and try to compare. But just because she’s not 6-feet tall and doesn’t have the same stride length doesn’t mean that affects her stride rate,” Redwine explained. “I don’t see her height as a disadvantage. Her competitiveness overcomes anything that anyone could say against her.”
Adams herself has also never cited her stature as a hindrance. Rather than getting discouraged by people who miscalculate her ability, she uses it as a source of motivation to prove people wrong.
“People say I ‘run big,’ so when my size ever does come to mind I just remind myself of that and just run like I always do. But it has motivated me because sometimes people do underestimate me since I am small,” Adams said. “I want to show them that I can run big or be just as big as them, even though I’m in a smaller package.”
While she doesn’t let her size get in her head, she has had experiences where her opponents actually comment on her “smallness.” One of Adams’ weirdest memories happened at the Big 12 Conference meet her sophomore year after crossing the finish line of the 600-yard race.
“I had beaten this really tall Iowa State girl who was maybe 6-foot. As soon as we stepped off the finish line she turned to me and said, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re so cute and little,'” Adams remembered. “I was actually kind of mad at that because we had just faced off as opponents and I beat her. But a lot of people are shocked because they’re like, ‘She’s so small, how does she get around the track so fast?’ and you know, I’m not really sure. I just run.”
“Just running” has proven to be an effective tactic, as Adams has experienced a successful career at Kansas. At the Big 12 Championship, she has turned in top-10 finishes in the 800 meters four times and placed in the top-three in the 600 yards twice. One of her favorite moments was last year when she broke the school record in the outdoor 800 meters with a time of 2:05.43 at the Sun Angel Classic hosted by Arizona State University on April 9, 2016.
The sign of a true competitor is one who is never satisfied. Even after a record-breaking performance, Adams’ competitiveness is apparent as she is constantly hungry for more.
“I felt accomplished, but honestly I wish I would have done that earlier and gotten an even better time,” Adams said. “I was looking for that 2:03 mark for the Olympic time trials, so I wish I would’ve run that sooner and ran faster.”
Luckily for her, Adams still has her entire senior season to improve and continue to break records. She also has a few other goals in mind, and she won’t be satisfied until she achieves them.
“I’ve never been to nationals (NCAA Championships) before, so that’s something I really want to do,” she said. “Some of my other personal goals are to run a 2:04 indoor time and at least a 2:03 or 2:02 outdoors (in the 800 meters).”
Adams won’t have to work toward these goals on her own. Her coach believes she is capable of achieving them and is more than willing to help push her to reach her fullest potential.
“It’s my job to make sure that (Adams making it to nationals) happens,” Redwine said. “She’s ready and I think she’s fired up. She’ll take no prisoners and she’ll go out there and be successful.”
Encouragement from the coaching staff has been a constant for Adams, which is one of her favorite things about KU. They promised to support her throughout her career and they’ve done just that.
“All of the staff and coaches have really been there for me. They kept their word and I’m really thankful to all of them,” Adams said. “My coaches, my academic advisors, my teachers and my teammates have all helped push and motivate me.”
This support was a big factor in choosing which school to attend and it’s one of the main reasons Adams ultimately decided on Kansas. She wanted to be somewhere that felt like a second home.
“When I came here it just felt like this was the place for me,” Adams recalled. “I could tell the team and staff were like family and that confirmed this was where I wanted to be.”
As she heads into the final stretch of her run as a Jayhawk, spending time with her second family, both on and off the track, is something she’s excited about.
“You only get four years to be in this team environment, represent Kansas as a whole and share that camaraderie with everyone,” Adams said. “Reflecting on my time with the team and hanging out with them is something I look forward to.”
Her team is at the top of the list when it comes to what Adams is going to miss after she graduates. Their common goals have formed a natural bond among them that has contributed to some of her most cherished memories.
“Once a Jayhawk, always a Jayhawk, so I think I’ll always feel that camaraderie even after I leave, but probably not to the extent I do now,” she sighed. “It (our closeness) has just come naturally because we all want each other to do well. I’ll miss that.”
With May lurking around the corner, Adams has begun to plan for life after graduation. She already has plans to attend occupational therapy school, but wouldn’t be opposed to exploring track professionally.
“Once you want to go to that next level, a lot of people look at what you’ve done and how fast you’ve run,” she stated. “So I think it all depends on how fast I run this season and if people will try to talk to me. But if they do, that’s such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, if someone were to give that to me I would definitely take it.”
Although Adams does not know exactly what her future path holds, her coach is sure of one thing.
“She’s a good person at heart. Her parents are great parents who have done a really good job raising her. She knows the rights from wrongs and the how-to’s,” Redwine said. “I’m confident she’ll be able to go out and achieve anything she puts her heart into.”