Rowan Wilson has a simple answer when asked what goes through her mind as she gets ready to come out of the starting blocks against other track competitors.
“ Try not to get last,” the 9-year-old replied with a grin.
The Dothan youth has avoided that quite well since first giving track a try when she competed in the annual Dothan City Track Meet three years ago.
She recently qualified for the AAU Junior Olympic Games to be held July 27-Aug. 3 in Greensboro, N.C., where she will be competing in the 800 meter and one mile events. Wilson qualified by finishing sixth in the 800 meter and fourth in the 1,500 meter races at a regional competition in Knoxville, Tenn.
Wilson cut 55 seconds off her best time in the 1,500 during the regional, but still wasn’t satisfied.
“ I know that when we were leaving, she was kind of discouraged because she didn’t get a medal,” her mother, Tori Wilson, said of the regional meet. “But I was like, ‘Rowan, this is four different states (Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee). These are some of the girls that you beat. It’s something to be proud of.’”
Before the Knoxville meet, she had finished second in the 1,500 and third in the 800 at the district qualifier in Montgomery. It’s been a steady climb for Wilson since becoming a member of a local youth travel track club – the Circle City Thunder – led by Kate Howard.
“ We asked around and nobody was really doing a traveling team,” Tori said. “So last year, her (Howard’s) kids were doing the city meet, too, and she told my husband that she does a traveling team here in Dothan called Circle City Thunder.
“ She said it starts in February and this was May, so we wanted to make sure Rowan still wanted to do it, and she did. So in February we started and we practiced probably for a month and a half before they had their first meet.
“ It’s mostly Georgia, Alabama and Florida (for meets). Some are put on by the YMCA; some are put on by the Amateur Athletic Union, who does the Junior Olympics.”
Tori said her daughter’s stick-to-it attitude has been the key to success.
“ She finishes well and she’s got really good stamina,” Tori said. “At the beginning, she wasn’t doing as well because this wasn’t something she did every day. She was not getting first, clearly, but she didn’t stop, either. You see the kids that get discouraged and they stop. She just keeps going no matter what place she gets, she’s going to finish.”
Going to the various meets is something Rowan enjoys.
“ There are a bunch of people you can talk to, there is running involved, you can win medals – a bunch of things,” Rowan said. “It’s been fun.”
It’s fun for Tori, too, though a little nerve-racking.
“ My husband (Charles Wilson) can go and yell and he’s so excited, and it’s hard for me to watch,” Tori said. “I want her to do well, obviously, but either way I want to make sure she’s having a good time. Whenever she’s not having a good time, I know that’s when it’s time to pack it in.”
The family has been planning vacations around the various track meets.
“ I try to make it fun for her, that way whether she wins or loses, she’s got good memories of when we went,” Tori said.
The Wilsons are planning to attend a Dothan City Commission work session which is scheduled this Friday starting at 9 a.m. in the commission chambers on the second floor of the Dothan Civic Center to discuss the need for a new city track. Currently, track athletes in Dothan are relegated to practicing on old concrete surfaces around town.
When Rowan competed in Knoxville, the track had a rubber surface and many of the competitors were wearing cleats. Rowan, in contrast, wore tennis shoes she’s been practicing and competing in.
The family believes if a new track facility is built in Dothan, not only would it benefit many athletes and encourage others to get involved in the sport, but also better prepare them for events such as the AAU Junior Olympic Games.
“ We don’t have cleats, but it’s definitely something I’m hoping we can get and she can practice with somewhere, because I know that they help,” Tori said of hoping a new track facility will someday become a reality for Dothan.