Oct. 17, 2017
By Brad Muller | More Features
Two years ago Aliyah Abrams ran the fastest time in the outdoor 400 meters of any freshman in the country. After an ankle injury forced her to miss the outdoor track & field season last spring, Abrams is working hard to be the fastest of them all and expects to be among the national championship contenders in the 400 meter and 4x400 meter events this spring.
“Winning nationals is ultimately everybody’s goal,” Abrams said. “It’s the icing on the cake. I am doing a lot more to focus on my strength this year. I’m definitely taking that more seriously this year.
“The biggest challenge is overcoming mental blocks. I know I’m being very cautious with my ankle. I have to be able to push myself to the right limits. I’m trying to get better and not be stuck on my previous injuries.”
Abrams collegiate career got off to a fast start during her freshman year as she earned 2016 first-team Outdoor All-America honors as part of the bronze medal-winning team in the 4x400m relay at the NCAA Championships. She also took home second-team Outdoor All-America honors in the 400 meters. After competing in 400 meters at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio for Guyana, Abrams and the 4x400m relay team, which includes returning seniors Briana Haith and Precious Holmes, placed ninth at the 2017 NCAA Indoor Championships to earn second-team All-America honors. But the ankle injury prevented her from building on that in the outdoor season last spring.
“It was tough seeing my teammates go to meets every weekend to compete,” Abrams said. “I just tried to encourage them. It was tough because I wanted to be out there. I just tried to stay as positive as I could by staying fit. I wanted to give a lot more.”
The memory of not being able to compete is part of what drives her now.
“I like to push myself,” Abrams said. “I don’t want to overdo it and hurt myself again, but I’m definitely pushing myself to be stronger. Being fast is great, but being stronger, getting more stability with my ankle, building my calf muscles to help balance out my ankle, and every little piece all come together to make me a stronger runner.”
When I first visited South Carolina, it felt like a good fit. It was like I was meant to be here.
As a former Junior Olympics and Georgia state high school champion, Abrams was already a talented runner before she arrived at South Carolina, but she noted that her work with head coach Curtis Frye has made a big difference.
“Coach Frye just knows how to bring the best out of people,” Abrams said. “In a workout, he gives me something very specific to hit, and if you don’t, you do it again. You make yourself run so you’re exactly on time and it works out in return. You run, and you feel good.
“When I first visited South Carolina, it felt like a good fit. It was like I was meant to be here.”
Abrams began running competitively when she was 11 years old, and a little more than a year later, she knew she had a knack for it. With all the miles under her feet since then, circling the track is still a thrill.
“For the 400, I just really know that race to a ‘T,’ ” Abrams said. “I know exactly what I have to do in order to run my best and please myself. I know how to get out, where I need to pick it up, and where my body might start feeling a little fatigued. I know every part of that race. You’re not really thinking; you’re just running. Sometimes you hear things, sometimes you don’t.
“The 4x4 is different because you have the whole team. You’re not just running for yourself; you’re running for three other girls, too. It’s a little bit more pressure, but it pushes you even more to do your part. I’m the first leg a lot, so I have to give my team a good position.”
Abrams will likely be joined in the 4x4 by seniors Holmes and Haith, with the fourth sprinter to be determined later. Wherever she is in the mix, Abrams enjoys the bond with her teammates.
“Off the track, you have to have a good relationship,” Abrams said. “You have to be comfortable running with them and know their strengths and weaknesses. On the track, everyone needs to be on the same page with the same goal and be composed. We encourage each other. We say a prayer before we run.”
Getting the chance to run at the Olympics was also something that helped Abrams dream big.
“It made me realize that I can do a lot more outside of competing collegiately,” Abrams said.
While there are many races to be run before the NCAA Championships, Abrams can’t help but think about what it would mean to be on top of the podium.
“If I got the national championship medal, I’d probably be taking a picture and then take it home to my mom and dad,” Abrams said. “They’re watching every track meet they can, and they call me after every meet. I believe I can be a national champion because I work hard, I can see it for myself, and I am going to do as much as I can to get it.”
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