The most imposing runner on the women’s track and field team warms up in her own isolated corner of the track on a warm Monday afternoon. Junior Shakima Wimbley is preparing for this week’s ACC Indoor Championships, as she holds the meet record in the 200m race. She needs space, not only for her long 6-foot-2 frame but also to clear her head. For the star sprinter from Fort Lauderdale, her thoughts often outrun her legs.
“The emotions when you’re about to run are going crazy … So many thoughts flash through your head. Some of the moments when you start to doubt, but then you’re like, ‘No, I have to do it,’” Wimbley said. “But the thing is, once you step to the line you have to just blank everything out. Just forget everything and wait to run.”
That’s easier said than done, especially for Wimbley. Despite her list of accolades and achievements, Wimbley only now feels she is able to run without doubting herself or thinking about her opponents.
“I would say before the race is when I’m doing most of the thinking, but when I’m down in the box, the only thing I can think about is just waiting for the gun and taking off. Get out and run,” she said. “It was a huge problem getting to that point. I can’t compare myself [to other runners] or wonder if she’s better than me. I have to run my best race to get where I have to go.”
After winning the silver medal in the 2015 Pan American Games in the 400m and a gold in the 4x400m relay, Wimbley realizes she can compete with the best runners in the world.
“After that experience, I’m just like, ‘They’re humans like me, too.’ At the end of the day, they have to come to the track like me, exercise like me, practice like me,” Wimbley said. “So it’s okay to be a little bit nervous, but [I shouldn’t] be nervous to the point where I don’t go out and give my best when I’m racing them.”
Whether that doubt has been permanently or only temporarily erased remains to be seen. Everyone seems to recognize Wimbley’s towering presence on the track – except for Wimbley herself.
“When she walks out onto the track, she’s a force to be reckoned with, but she doesn’t see herself as that force,” said Amy Deem, UM director of track and field and cross country. “That’s the biggest challenge right now with her. It’s not the workouts I’m giving her on the track. She is such a presence on the track. She hasn’t learned how to use that to her advantage.”
Wimbley’s internal struggle with her presence predates her time here at UM. Two growth spurts in middle school and high school almost made her drop track entirely.
“I went from, like, 5-foot-11 to, like, 6-foot-2 before I came here. And before 5-foot-11 I was only 5-foot-8, and that was around middle school. It was really weird growing tall,” Wimbley said. “I was like, ‘Maybe I should quit this sport. Maybe this sport isn’t for me anymore.’”
However, Wimbley was determined not to give up and instead became one of the top sprinters in South Florida. Junior Jamika Glades, Wimbley’s teammate at Dillard High School and now at UM, wishes Wimbley could always have that level of self-confidence.
“Sometimes when she comes out and says she doesn’t have mental confidence … It’s frustrating,” Glades said. “Because I’ve known her for so long and I know she has the talent. I told her everyone believes in her, but she just needs to believe in herself. She could be an Olympic champion even.”
Wimbley has heard this message for years, but it still hasn’t completely sunk in.
“Every coach in the country is just waiting for her to figure it out. They don’t want her to figure it out, but they’re just waiting for her to figure it out,” Deem said.
Just as Deem and Glades can’t run Wimbley’s race for her, they also can’t break down her mental barriers – only Wimbley can do that.
“It’s me battling with myself, because strangely, I am aware that I can do it. They tell me that all the time, but sometimes I’m just like, ‘I don’t know if I can do that,’” Wimbley said. “But that’s something I have to get over personally. It’s nothing that somebody can tell me. They can tell me a million times and if I don’t believe it, then it’s not going to work.”
Wimbley finishes her warm-ups in her own small part of the track. She heads to the starting blocks alone, and with everyone by her side. While other runners can challenge Wimbley, she has no tougher opponent than herself.