By Josh Hyber | Photo by Allen Sharpe
On May 26, 2018 in La Crosse, Wisconsin, Wadeline Jonathas took gold in the Division-III National Championship 400-meter race. She won by 47 hundredths of a second over a runner from Stevens Institute and 68 hundredths of a second over a runner from Nebraska Wesleyan.
Back then, Jonathas ran for UMass Boston.
Fast forward a year and change, Jonathas found herself back at the national championship — albeit on the faster and grander D-I stage in Austin, Texas — with another shot at a 400-meter title.
At the 33-second mark of the final heat, Jonathas — in lane four — trailed five runners.
“Watch out for Wadeline Jonathas,” ESPN announcer Dwight Stones mentioned. “She’s always a late runner on this final home stretch. And here she comes.”
By the time Stones finished the sentence, 10 seconds later, Jonathas was in second.
“The kick is my strength, so even though I was in the back, I knew if I was close enough when I got off the turn I was going to be able to win,” she said. “… I like to run through the finish line and not slow down. Even though I’m dying, I’m like, ‘Don’t slow down.’”
Seven seconds later Jonathas was the Division-I 400-meter outdoor champion.
“It didn’t feel real at first,” she said on Monday, two days after the championship run.
While the victory was rewarding, it was the culmination of a tough yet enjoyable year that also included an indoor national championship in the 4x400 relay.
But it all, just as easily, could not have happened.
Curtis Frye did not answer his phone the first few times Jonathas reached out to him about transferring to South Carolina.
“I didn’t take the call the first few times,” the Gamecock head coach admits. “… But when it kept happening, to me that meant it was meant to be.”
Jonathas enrolled at South Carolina and got to work.
She never doubted she would have success on the D-I level, but had to overcome countless gut-wrenching training sessions to get there.
“Sweat, determination,” she said. “A lot of throwing up, for sure. Passing out a couple of times at practice. I had to get used to the heat.”
She trained with team captain Aliyah Abrams, who finished 18th in the 400 at the national championships in 2018 and ran the race for Guyana at the 2016 Rio Olympics. (Abrams finished fifth, four spots behind Jonathas, in Austin.)
“There were no days off,” said Abrams, who hosted Jonathas on the latter’s visit to South Carolina. “We don’t allow it. When we’re tired or we’re feeling fatigued, or just not into it one day, we’re always there to push each other through.
“We’re always working hard and always trying to get better.”
Jonathas mentioned how much easier it was to run a season of the D-I level, where training, meals and nutrition are all planned for her.
“All I’ve got to do is just run,” she said. “I’m just able to focus on school and training.”
It made her more relaxed, and because of that a better runner.
“We knew that if we could get her in an acceleration pattern, to set her race up, she could contend,” Frye said.
“Never a doubt,” Jonathas said. “I always knew someday I would be there.”
On June 8, she was.
“To finally have this at the end, [it means] a lot,” she said.
Jonathas rowed crew and basketball and only began running at 16. (“I was trash,” she admits. “But I guess every year I got a little bit better.”) She began with shorter distances and then shifted to the 400.
“Oh gosh, I don’t want to keep running this,” Jonathas thought early in her 400 career. “But I guess that was my strength.”
Jonathas spent two seasons at UMass Boston, where she won nine individual national titles: indoor 400m and outdoor 200m and 400m titles in 2017 with indoor 60m, 200m, 400m and long jump titles and outdoor 200m and 400m titles in 2018.
“Coming from where I’m coming from a year ago, I didn’t think this would be possible this soon, but I knew I had it in me,” Jonathas said. “… Don’t limit yourself, that’s the message I was people to get. … If you keep working at it and you know what you want and never lose focus, you can accomplish a lot.”
Toward the end of her chat with reporters, the personable Jonathas spoke about her family’s support.
With a smile she said, “To them I’m like Usain Bolt.”