“People at meets like that know what to look for,” said her father and coach, Hank Wilson of Fairfax City. “And when they saw her time, the place was just wild.”
Rachael, who has since turned eight, is a second-grader at Daniels Run Elementary School. In the same national meet, she also finished second in the finals of the 55-meter and 200-meter dashes behind a girl from the Bronx, N.Y. She joins Rheinhardt Harrison of Falls Church, also eight, who is the top youth distance runner in America, in leading what is fast becoming a nationally prominent track team.
“I focus on the 400, because that’s my race,” Rachael said. “I like the 400 because it gives you time to catch up. The other races, it’s very fast and you hardly have any time to catch up.”
Their father had no track background at all, but has dived in fully to the U.S.A. Track and Field coaches’ certification program, and has discovered that his grandfather and uncles were champion jumpers and vaulters in southern Virginia years ago.
“I think, culturally, track and field is the new soccer,” Hank Wilson said. He has been chatting up other parents and coaches at meets to gauge the interest of kids in their areas and see how much training to impose on pre-teens. “Children with a little bit of training and knowledge can do things we didn’t think they could do,” he said.
But they do want to keep it fun, so during indoor season, they only train once a week. During outdoor season, three times a week. This should leave plenty of room for a gradual buildup to the 2028 Olympics, when Rachael will be 23 and Jack 25. Both kids watched the 2012 Olympics and have favorite sprinters — Usain Bolt for Jack, Allyson Feliz for Rachael — but “we couldn’t stay up too late to watch the finals,” Rachael said. Dumb NBC tape delay.
“Oh my God, this is new, what if I’m horrible at it?” Jack Wilson said. ”But I came in first at everything until the regionals.”
When Rachael’s turn came, she thought, “My Dad signed me up for another thing. But I liked it. It was something different from soccer and gymnastics, and I really didn’t want to break my neck learning more rules.” And now, “there’s no other sport I would be interested in.”
Hank Wilson soon realized he had something.
“They were just so much farther ahead than every other child,” he said. ”People were coming to me and saying, ‘Wow, they can run.’”
Both kids are very competitive and both are “pure sprinters,” their father said, without the patience or endurance for distance running. Jack, a fourth-grader at Mosby Woods Elementary School, is hoping to set more personal bests in the outdoor season, and Rachael is hoping to set the outdoor 400-meter record to add to her indoor record.
“Judging by the indoor, I think I’ll do really well in the outdoor,” Rachael said.
Success at such an early age is no guarantee of future glory. But it’s certainly an indicator of genuine potential, and Jack and Rachael will bear watching down the road.