Graphic by Ben Jinkins
Photo Credit: MileSplit
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Entering her final season at Mount De Sales Academy (MD), Juliette Whittaker wanted to evolve into the best version of herself.
"Before this year, I doubted myself a lot before stepping up to lines and would sometimes lose the race before it even started," Whittaker told MileSplit recently. "Depending on who was in the race or the big meet I was racing at, I let those things get to my head."
Not in 2022. By the start of the spring campaign, Whittaker had big goals. For the Maryland native, that end goal was to make the United States U20 Championship team and represent her country in Colombia at the World U20 Championships.
But in the interim, she accomplished a whole lot more, breaking the high school national record in the 800m and surpassing the sub-2 barrier twice en route to a personal best time of 1:59.04. Officially, Whittaker overtook Mary Cain, who had run 1:59.51 in 2013. Whittaker also ran times of 54.61 seconds in the 400m and 4:36.23 in the mile, won the high school girls mile at The Penn Relays and won the Brooks PR mile.
On Friday, she earned the MileSplit50 Athlete of the Year honor, too.
Making the U.S. U20 team was essentially engraved in her brain since the beginning of the indoor season. Every action, every race and every practice was driven by that desire. That's what mattered at the end of the day.
So Whittaker went to work.
She sacrificed missing out on senior events, clocked in countless hours of training and traveled across the nation to compete against the most talented runners throughout her high school career.
She knew it would be worth it.
* Juliette Whittaker's debut in the 800m at Penn Relays this spring
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Even though there were moments when she wasn't running the times she wanted to, Whittaker felt the times would come if she kept fueling her vision.
"I learned to have fun with the process and progress," Whittaker said. "[Even if that meant] not running the times I want to right away but waiting on those special moments to happen. It was totally worth it."
Even if she didn't meet her expectation, deep down inside, she said, she could feel a stronger-minded self-developing.
Confidence built and she started to notice those changes on the track.
In one of her first meets of the spring season, Whittaker was tested at the Penn Relays. She won the high school girls mile in 4:41.18. Pleased by her performance, Whittaker recharged her mind and body to face a professional race the following day. She opened up her first outdoor 800m and clocked a 2:01.55 to finish second in the Olympic Development section.
A month later, she found herself lining up at the Trials of Miles: NYC in the 800m.
This time, she went into the race mentally that she would leave everything out on the track. It resulted in her first-ever sub-two-minute performance for 800m, and, better yet, a victory: She took down Stanford alum Olivia Baker.
Whittaker clocked a 1:59.80 and knew that she penciled her name once again on the all-time lists.
Whittaker became the second high school girl in history to break two minutes in the two-lap race, following only Mary Cain.
She then set another lifetime best in the mile for U.S. No. 3 with a time of 4:36.23 to win Brooks PR. The Stanford recruit did everything she could possibly have done and some to set herself up to have the race of her life.
She found herself under the newly remodeled Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon for the USATF U20 Championships. This time around, she had all confidence she needed.
* Juliette Whittaker in the mile at Penn Relays
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Whittaker took the starting line for what could potentially be one last time in her high school career.
From that point forward she just held on, pumping her arms as she came around the first lap in 59.04. The lactic began to sink, she later said, in but her mind and her willpower took over.
A whole minute went by and Whittaker crossed the finish line as the fastest girl at trials with Willis right behind her.
She looked up at the scoreboard and realized she did more than that.
Make the US U20 team... check.
Set a personal best.. check
It was also a new national high school record.
"The record came with [making the US U20 team]," Whittaker said. "I wasn't thinking of a time. Achieving that was a dream of mine. Mary Cain paved the way for mid-distance runners. I feel honored to have broken her record."
MileSplit50 2022 Season Outline:
Update 3, June 7: MileSplit50: Lauren Lewis' 400m Moves Her Into Top 15
Update 2, May 12: MileSplit50: Juliette Whittaker Goes To No. 2 After Penn
Update 1, April 24: Adaejah Hodge Sets Tone Early At No. 1
MileSplit50 Athlete Of The Year History:
2022 Indoor AOY: Roisin Willis, Stevens Point (WI)
2021 XC AOY: Natalie Cook, Flower Mound (TX)
2021 Outdoor AOY: Roisin Willis, Stevens Point (WI)
2021 Indoor AOY: Sophia Gorriaran, Moses Brown School
2020 XC AOY: Jenna Hutchins, Science Hill (TN)
2020 Outdoor AOY: No award (Covid year)
2020 Indoor AOY: Athing Mu, Trenton TC (NJ)
2019 XC AOY: Katelyn Tuohy, North Rockland (NY)
2019 Outdoor AOY: Briana Williams, Northeast (Oakland) (FL)
2019 Indoor AOY: Athing Mu, Trenton TC (NJ)
2018 XC AOY: Katelyn Tuohy, North Rockland (NY)
2018 Outdoor AOY: Katelyn Tuohy, North Rockland (NY)
2018 Indoor AOY: Katelyn Tuohy, North Rockland (NY)