Ava Wilmot is a senior at Colts Neck High School in New Jersey. She's the reigning NJSIAA Group 3 outdoor state champion in the 3,200m and finished eighth in the 2K Steeplechase at New Balance Nationals Outdoor in June. A Rutgers University signee, Wilmot is looking to close her senior indoor and outdoor track and field seasons with a bang. Below, she reflects upon her career and finds through-lines that have motivated her to overcome adversity.
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Rock bottom is a state of mind that no runner or athlete ever wants to hit, but unfortunately, sometimes we do.
Sure, there are a variety of degrees to which a runner could classify "rock bottom" as their own, whether it's a bad race or a career-ending injury. Either way, though, it is a bump in the road that you have to face.
It is just the way life goes sometimes.
Yet, there are ways to steer the ship away from these bumps, as they all connect and stem from the mentality that you decide to create within yourself.
I know I have my story. In March of 2021, after a frustrating 11 months of question marks -- after multiple injuries and horrible races -- I was diagnosed with one of the worst strains of Lyme Disease contractible. Coming off such an astounding freshman debut year, it felt like a bomb had erupted over me.
The pain, the fatigue, the memory loss, the tears and the depression slowly transformed me into a downward spiral. This was my rock bottom. And so, I thought about quitting this sport for good. But why?
Because the thought of a full recovery seemed so far away. It seemed unfeasible.
But there was one thing in my mind that never changed: My fight.
I did everything within my power to strive for that full recovery -- a healthy diet, limiting anaerobic training, proper sleep. You name it, I did it. I cross-trained, logged miles and ran workouts as if they were my job.
I refused to give up on my dreams of being a Division 1 collegiate runner. Because in my head, I felt like there was no choice but to make it happen.
I was never fully healthy until this past May. But when I was, I ran my first personal best in over two years by winning the 3,200m at the Shore Conference Championships. It was only a four-second personal best, but I felt that was my turning point. I felt like my rock bottom had vanished.
Race after race came new personal bests, along with more titles. But looking back, the titles didn't even mean much to me; it was the gritty effort that led me there. It was all those years of hard work that meant the world to me. That's what I remembered most when I won those races.
My state title race was more than just another race. Those 10 minutes and 55 seconds were pure motivation. They were proof that I was capable of anything I put my mind to.
All success comes from the root of failure. I had to look back to understand it. And what I found is that rock bottom isn't a place. Rather, it's a state of mind. You have the power to determine whether you want to go into that dark state or not.
Don't get me wrong, this mental stressor isn't easy to fight off, but I'm here to tell you it's possible. I am a prime example of it.
Right now, yet again, I'm staring at adversity. I have a stress fracture at the bottom of my second metatarsal bone in my left foot. That injury erased my senior cross country season.
And yes, it sucks. But this time around, all I am thinking about are the goals I want to achieve and the future that is ahead of me. I want to defend my state title in the 3,200m this indoor season and break five minutes in the mile.
Rock bottom is not an option this time. It never will be again.
I have had a laundry list of athletes, adults and coaches come up to me and tell me "It is incredible that you did not give up through the hardships you went through."
What I found is that rock bottom isn't a place. Rather, it's a state of mind. You have the power to determine whether you want to go into that dark state or not.
But in all honesty, I really do not find it incredible. Because I trust myself. I have never given myself the choice to give up. I am not a quitter. Quitting is tempting, but it's never the proper route to turn to, or have a career finish on.
Any runner's worst enemy is themselves. You constantly battle with yourself through workouts, races and injuries. And so, it is not the speedy workouts that make you the runner that you are. Rather, it's your mind that takes you to places you didn't think you'd go, whether it's on the track or out there on the grass.
It is how you approach races mentally. Are you excited? Are you determined to succeed? Are you willing to put your blood, sweat and tears into it?
If you answered yes to all these questions, you're more than ready to achieve great things.
But just know, the only person you're ever waging war on is yourself. Be strong enough to beat that person, over and over again.
Colts Neck '23
CONTRIBUTE TO THIS SERIES
If you are a track and field athlete or coach interested in contributing to this series at the state or national level, please send your essay to MileSplit USA editor Cory Mull at email@example.com, or to your local MileSplit editor in your respective state.
Read the full series here.