My World Juniors experience started out a little rocky. My checked bag didn't make it on to the flight from Chicago to Poland, so for the first few days I had to borrow clothes and toiletries from my teammates (special thank you to Nicole Greene, Kaylee Hinton, Chinne Okoronkwo, Alexis Duncan, and our team manager Francesca). But eventually my bag arrived, and aside from this minor hiccup I had an absolutely incredible time in Poland.
One of the best parts about being on a USA team is the team itself. I already knew a pretty good amount of people after the CSI team and Pan American Juniors last year, but this trip gave me the chance to hang out with people I already considered friends and get to know many more people better. A lot of us would just sit in the hallway outside our rooms and talk, and there were a lot of intense games of UNO in Vincent Crisp's room. I feel like the team developed close bonds, bonds that were solidified during our down time but especially at the track.
There's a special feeling of pride to walk around with USA across your chest and know that the eyes of nearly every other team are upon you. We sat together in our little section to watch our teammates compete, to cheer for them and let them know they had our support. I can't speak for anyone else, but walking past my team on the way to the starting blocks before each of my rounds absolutely helped take some of the anxiety off. Being in that cheering section was almost as fun as actually competing. Highlights of the trip definitely have to be watching both of our 4x1s win gold, watching Sammy and Aaliyah go one and two in the 800, and then seeing Marcus and Amere sweep the 110 hurdles. Outstanding performances create an incredible energy all on their own, but to sweep those events in such a high level competition and be in our own USA section -- manic enthusiasm and joy swept through us.
While I loved the team aspect of the trip, my number one priority was my races. One of the biggest challenges was preventing my nerves and anxiety from getting the best of me. I get extremely nervous at meets, so before I began my warmup for each round, I'd sit on the ground and read my book. When it was time to actually start warming up, I put my headphones in and blasted Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj because I needed to channel my inner diva! I think I was the most nervous for prelims just because I'd never run on that track before or really felt that stadium. My heart was racing the entire time I sat in the call room and while I walked to my blocks, but I just focused on my race plan and executing. For semis I did the same exact thing; I remembered what my coach told me and stepped onto the track and ran my race. I was surprised to see that I ran 56.10 in semis because I didn't feel like I went that fast. That's when I knew that my final would definitely be a PR. I had trouble sleeping the night before finals. I was excited, I knew it would be a great race, and I was ready for it, so sleep refused to come. Eventually I did get some sleep, but then I had to wait around all day because finals was at 9PM! I ate breakfast and lunch with my parents and coach to kill some time. When I finally did get to the track, things felt different. Instead of my normal nervous energy, I was strangely calm. I went through my warmup then sat and talked with my coach for a bit before going into the call room. The whole time I could just feel it. It's hard to explain what exactly that feeling was but I knew I couldn't have been more prepared to run that race. I walked out onto the track and just ran.
A lot of people have asked me why I cried so much after the race. That question kinda requires a long answer. For starters, I'm just a crier in general. I cry when I'm happy, when I'm sad, when I'm overwhelmed. But more than that, the moment itself was very emotional for me. 55.20 was a massive PR. My last meet before Worlds was Olympic Trials, and I was incredibly disappointed with my performances there. So coming to Worlds and executing three races exactly the way I wanted to was the redemption I needed and had been craving. My parents, my coach, and my coach's daughter Arielle all came to Poland to support me and having them there sharing that moment meant everything to me. And more than anything, the realization that I had just won the World U20 Championships and received the American flag hit me all at once and it hit me hard.
After the wild emotions of 400m hurdles, I was just ready to have fun on the 4x4. I was still extremely nervous, but I was feeling highly confident because of my hurdles PR. Lynna, Karrington, and Sammy are all such talented runners, and I was excited to be on a team with them. We had a lot of fun coming up with the pose we'd strike when we exited the tunnel and just hanging out before the race. When it was time to actually run, all I could think about was doing everything I could to get the win for them. I got the baton from Lynna and went after it. Jamaica put Tiffany James, the winner of the open 400 on the second leg. She cut in ahead of me, so I just kept my eyes on her back until I hit the 150. At the 150 I went for it and kicked as hard as I possibly could. After I handed off to Karrington and saw her take the lead, I knew it was over and that we'd won. Winning that second gold medal was just as special as the first.
I had such a memorable, unbelievably excellent experience in Poland. I'm so thankful for the medical staff, the coaching staff, and all the athletes that were there with me, and I know this trip is something I'll carry forever.