Social media has become, in so many ways, a normality in our lives.
We check it throughout the day, connecting with friends, neighbors, coworkers and colleagues as we seek to engage about the things and people who we find interesting.
And that's been no different for athletes, both young and old.
Whether it's a professional athlete connecting directly to his or her fans, or a young track and field fan who's following their idol for the first time, social media has become the link for that conversation.
Recently, MileSplit sought to tell the story of seven young athletes whose journeys on the platform TikTok, a fast-rising platform with over a billion downloads globally, had skyrocketed. And we found that, while it can be fun and exciting to have a big audience, it's not always that easy to deal with the responsibilities of that success.
Check below for individual snapshots on the athletes we spoke to.
Penn State Harrisburg sophomore
Tik Tok: @thatsdominick - Followers: 86.3K
Hogan, 20, is a sophomore sprinter at Penn State Harrisburg. But the 2018 D.C. Woodrow Wilson graduate confirmed he is likely to move on to the main campus at State College, Pennsylvania, soon enough, and potentially could walk-on to the Nittany Lions' track and field team. But in the meantime, Hogan has been cultivating a supremely charismatic TikTok channel that provides commentary his sport, the people around it, and the situations he often finds himself in. By his sixth video in 2020, he said, he was getting recognized while at indoor meets. "I was around 20K on TikTok and this girl noticed me," he said. "Are you ThatsDominick? I mean, I hesitated!" But success hasn't been too overwhelming. Hogan is working toward becoming a personal trainer and owning his own gym one day. He hopes he can continue to post on social media and build on his brand, Pure Bred Fitness.
University of Kentucky junior
Tik Tok: @masairussell - Followers: 204.9K
Russell, 20, is a junior hurdler on the University of Kentucky track and field team. The 2018 Potomac Bullis School (MD) graduate qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Championships in 2019 -- earning an All-American placement in the 4x400 -- and then went on to win silver in the 100mH at the Pan American U20 Championships. Russell's TikTok account largely sees her dance, hang with friends and add commentary on other videos. Russell says her future might include leveraging her social media success in business, as she hopes to one day own her own clothing line and become a trainer. She has advice to those who follow her accounts. "I tell people, even my fans: You don't want to compare yourself to anyone else. Be your own person. And don't feel like you have to be perfect." She adds, "I think I do a good job. I don't post nothing crazy. I show people who I am."
University of Georgia sophomore
Tik Tok: @matthewboling - Followers: 708.K
Boling's social media presence was the most established of anyone Milesplit spoke to for this story. On top of his massive TikTok following, his IG account accounts for a healthy 178K followers, while his Twitter comes in right around 31.1K. He mostly concentrates on posting fun and engaging videos around track and field, though he offers the occasional goofball video and provides commentary on others. The fame hasn't changed him, he says. Right now, the 20-year-old sprinter for the University of Georgia is concentrated on school and track. He plays video games and spends downtime with his roomate, Caleb Cavanaugh, and has taken up cooking as a side hobby. "My favorite is salmon," he says. He still finds it amazing that people follow him on social media. One particular incident saw him go live on TikTok with his mother, and then "I think there were 250 people on the stream," he said. While his future in track remains as promising as ever, Boling also is mindful of his accounts. "My brand is still being established," he said, "and I know I can take it slow." He added, "I think of it this way. You don't have followers because you're doing funny stuff. It's coming because the results speak for themselves and people enjoy seeing what you do, because you're running fast."
Yorba Linda High School senior
Tik Tok: @siena.palicke - Followers: 114.0K
The 17-year-old Palicke downloaded TikTok in March, right when the pandemic hit. But it's been like an explosion since. The California teen posts a variety of content, from posts on track and field and cross country, to moments featuring every aspect of her life -- like what shoes she'll wear on her next run or what she's eating. "I've been really fortunate that I've been given this opportunity to build connections with runners and be involved," she said. "I think it's so cool that I can go to a meet and be able to talk to other runners in different states." On a trip to Texas in September, Palicke found her first group of TikTok fans. "They're like, 'Are you Siena Palicke. You're so cool!' I love all your posts.' I was not expecting that at all." Right now, Palicke is in the thick of cross country training, though she's run a few meets in Texas and Arizona as California plans to return to action in 2021. Her best 5K finish was at the Desert Twilight, where she finished ninth in the unattached girls race in 18:32.55. "I think in regards to state, my goal is definitely top three at our state championships," she said.
Florida State University junior
Tik Tok: @paulstafford27 - Followers: 10.7K
Three years into his tenure at Florida State, the 20-year-dold Stafford has worked his way into becoming the Seminoles' No. 1 in cross country. It's a position he couldn't have imagined accomplishing so early after graduating from Lake Wales (FL) High School. "It feels amazing," he said. "Whenever I came to FSU, the goal was to be a leader for a top squad. And it's kind of devleoping before my eyes what I envisioned." When Stafford isn't running, he's hanging with his roommate, Joab Francois, and his teammates on the Seminoles. Stafford's TikTok account has lately featured a ton of ACC content featuring FSU, though he's also provided commentary on running issues and creative goofs on real-life situations. "There's a lot more interaction with my posts when things are running related," he said. "Sometimes I'll venture out of that box. But sometimes they're not as successful."
Harvard University junior
Tik Tok: @samwelsh42 - Followers: 231.2K
Welsh's first thoughts when he joined TikTok in November of 2019 was about ROI. "When I first downloaded it, one of my teammates went viral for a random video unrelated to track and field. It wasn't that high quality. And I was thinking, 'If that can go viral, I can post some track and field stuff and can go viral." Welsh's first post was a video of his head being near dead-even with a 10-foot basketball rim as he dunked a basketball. The post got 43,000 views. Since then, the 20-year-old has crafted his TikTok account around athletic performances, most of which see the athlete do physically impressive things like cleaning 335 pounds, doing backflips, and of course, jumping high. At his peak, he says, the 6-foot-3 Welsh has a 45-inch vertical. His most viewed video, he said, was featured on SportsCenter's IG account and has racked up over 30 million views. He's been approached by Red Bull for a collaborative video, though he's had to turn it odnw. But Welsh's claim to fame remains the time his father was in a grocery store and a random teenger asked his him, 'Wait, Sam Welsh, he lives in this town?' The Harvard junior, who was sixth at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in the discus in 2019, is currently in Pennsylvania training and taking online classes at Harvard -- only the freshman class is allowed on campus right now, he said. While Welsh says he could get into banking after college, he will continue to train and says his hopes are someday reaching the Olympics.
Rham High School senior
Tik Tok: @_speedy_edie - Followers: 101.2K
Walker, 17, is a senior at Rham High School who was the seventh-fastest athlete in the outdoor 800m within her state as a sophomore. She's got some serious talent. And a half-miler like Walker has likely set pretty big goals for her remaining high school career. Beyond the track, Walker's future also looks very bright. There's no doubt the 17-year-old possesses the kind of creavitity you can't teach, often producing videos on TikTok with a biting wit and humor which finds just the right note. "I feel insanely appreciative and it means so much to see the success," Walker said of her account. "I'm just being myself." She says her dream school is the University of Connecticut and hopes to one day compete for the Huskies.