Behind Britton Wilson's Transformative High School Career


The first step in Britton Wilson realizing her athletic potential came through knowledge. 

There was that grainy, VHS-quality documentary featuring her father, Vince, when he led Virginia Commonwealth University to success in the late 80s as a point guard. 

Then there were stories of her mother, LeYuani, who scored success as a cheerleader and track and field athlete for James Madison University around the same time. 

There were even the more recent exploits of her big sister, Jantsen Wilson, four years her junior, who had carved another successful path toward athletics at the Division I level.

From an early age, Wilson realized she would have to take up some kind of sport. Everyone in the family had something to their name. 

But it wasn't until her eighth grade year, after moving on from cheerleading and gymnastics, that she began to discover just what kind of talent she really possessed. And, she now might be the best athlete of the bunch. 

"It was a summer track meet where I ran 57," Wilson said of her first fast 400 meter run, back when she was competing for the Central Virginia Track and Field Club. "That's when I was like, 'This is the sport I'm good at.'" 

Five years later, Wilson has sure found her space. The Mills Godwin High School graduate, who won Virginia's Gatorade Player of the Year honor for the recent track season, was named MileSplit's Most Transformative Class of 2019 Athlete following an incredible senior season that saw her run the nation's fastest 300 meter and 400 meter hurdle times and the fifth fastest 400 meter time. 

Read: Who's Been The Most Transformative Senior Girls Athlete

A soon-to-be student-athlete at the University of Tennessee, Wilson, the No. 5 recruit in the Class of 2019, will finish out her high school career from July 18-21 in San Jose, Costa Rica, at the Pan American U20 Championships. 

She's secured a spot in the 400mH championship, and has a legitimate chance to win. She's the third fastest U20 athlete in the world in 2019 - behind two South Africans and an athlete from the Netherlands. Her goals, naturally, go beyond collegiate competition. 

"I want to make the (Olympic) team some day," Wilson said. "That's my ultimate goal." 

But her story first begins in high school.

It started her freshman year, when her coach believed she may be a triple jumper like her sister.

"We're built exactly the same," Wilson said. "But I wasn't that good at it. So my coach put me in the 55m (indoors) and he was like, 'Try this!' Then he put me in a the 400m."

That open 57.11 the following outdoor season may have been Wilson's aha moment. 

At the time, however, she didn't feel so hot. "When I sprinted I felt dead," she said. 

She also felt inhibited by her age.

"I used to be really in my head," she said. "I used to cry before meets. I was scared to go against people who were bigger and better, because I took it as a threat - 'Oh, she's faster than me.'" 

But by Wilson's freshman year, those fears faded. She broke 40 seconds in the 300m and 1:18 in the 500m indoors and went 57.02 in the 400m. Later, she ran 24.88 in the 200m and 54.30 at New Balance Nationals Outdoor in the Freshman Elite section - a race she won. 

Then at indoor nationals her sophomore season, Wilson was in the same championship heat as Sydney McLaughlin in the 400m. She said everyone knew "Sydney was supposed to win." But Wilson ran incredibly, too, finishing third in 53.25 seconds. 

"There was no pressure," Wilson said. "And afterward it sparked a bond with me and Sydney." 

The following outdoor season, Wilson's coach put her in the 300mH. It was an event she immediately prospered in. 

"I was excited to try it again," she said.

Wilson added her second and third indoor state titles in the 300m and 500m that junior season, going 38.42 and 1:12.52 and then finished sixth -- an All-American place -- in the championship section of the girls 400m at New Balance Nationals Indoor. 

The outdoor season saw two more state titles in the 200m and 400m and her first attempts at the 400mH distance at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. 

While Wilson failed to qualify for the IAAF U20 Championships in Finland at the distance, there was some solace. She ran well, going 57.95 seconds to finish fifth. 

However, the motivation of that loss, she says, is what ultimately shaped her as a competitor moving forward. 

"I was upset," Wilson said of her place. "I remember I had two days extra to stay in Indiana and that second day we kept getting tweet notifications of all these athletes going to Finland. I started crying. I wanted it.

"But that helped me," she added. "I knew how much I didn't want to be in that position again." 

A corollary effect of the time was in recruiting, where Wilson began to see a rise in interest from college suitors. 

"It was a big deal," she said. "All the college coaches were saying, 'She ran 57.'"

Wilson had her pick of the litter that winter, ultimately choosing the Volunteers of Tennessee. 

The following indoor season was remarkable. She scored the nation's second fastest 300m time (37.53) and fastest 500m (1:10.82), which ultimately was the No. 2 effort all-time in high school history. Both performances were among the class of the U20 athletes, third and second, respectively. 

"When I ran that 37 at The VA Showcase, I was excited. I started celebrating," Wilson said. "I've never done that before. But I jumped up and down and looked at my parents." 

She would go on to win a Millrose Games title in the 300m, place second in the 400m at New Balance Nationals Indoor and add two more state titles in the 300m and 500m in Virginia. 

Her outdoor season was more of the same. She was the nation's leader in the 300mH and 400mH and fifth in the 400m. She was Virginia's leader in the 400m, 300mH, 400mH and second in the 200m. 

"When I kept getting those times it was a good reminder that I was one of the best and could be one of the best if I just worked hard enough," Wilson said. "If I think I couldn't, I could." 

Wilson's four years weren't just transformative physically. She became a different student-athlete emotionally and mentally, more confident and in control of her own fate. 

That senior season, Sydney McLaughlin walked up to her at New Balance Nationals and said, 'You're Britton, right?' 

"I was thinking to myself, 'She's famous famous now!'" Wilson remembered. "She hugged me and gave me a water." 

For an added bonus, she added to the family's illustrious athletic pedigree. 

- - - 

Cory Mull is the Associate Manager of MileSplit USA. You can reach him at cory.mull@flosports.tv or tweet him @bycorymull



Comments