ON HER WAY to the USATF 100 title—and now on to Doha—Teahna Daniels almost fell. More than once. She nearly went down through the crack she labels as complacency. And then in her life path through the crevasse of devastating personal loss.
As a prep in Orlando, Daniels rated twice as a T&FN All-America in the 100—No. 3 in ’14, No. 2 in ’15. Both years were banner seasons and as a senior in ’15 she took the New Balance Indoor 60 crown and won the USATF Junior century title with a PR 11.24. When she headed west to Texas for her frosh college season in ’16 she won the NCAA Indoor 60 in 7.11, breaking the American Junior Record. The clocking made her the No. 4 all-time collegian and to this day she stands =No. 7 on the collegiate ATL.
Until Daniels arrived in Des Moines, however, that NCAA win indoors as a yearling was her high water mark. Self-described “complacency” set in, though Daniels got down to 11.06 in the 100 as a soph and placed 3rd at the NCAA. She was marching back into the mix. Then, in January ’18, her junior year, Daniels received crushing news in a phone call. Her father, Wellice, had passed away from a sudden brain seizure. He had called her just the day before. “He told me, ‘Good luck, baby, I already know you’re going to do well,’” Daniels told hookem.com this March. “He said he loved me and said, ‘see you at the finish line.’”
In the ensuing sad season Daniels’ trips across finish lines brought little joy. She placed 3rd at last year’s USATF Indoor, but did not get past the NCAA Indoor’s 60 heats or the Outdoor’s 100 semis.
When Edrick Floréal, a coach to champions both collegiate and pro, arrived in Austin last fall as Longhorn director he recognized the athlete Daniels could be. “She had a really good start as a freshman, won NCAAs [in the 60] and sorta went on that downward spiral,” he says. “Dad passed away, some depression. He was her No. 1 support mechanism in track and just wanted her to be a pro one day. That was sort of her path and her dream. So I think after he passed she really struggled with life as a whole just trying to make things happen. And then struggling from freshman year and winning NCs and then not materializing the great potential.”
Daniels’ promise began to reemerge with an NCAA Indoor dash 2nd, and in the outdoor campaign a change came. “Just mentally something clicked,” Daniels told reporters after her unexpected victory in Des Moines, “and I just changed my mentality going into everything. ‘You belong here, you’re supposed to be here and you can be a champion in any race that you compete in.’”
Floréal says, “When we got going it was just a matter of injecting some confidence, just making sure she still believed that she could do this and, piece by piece, gaining trust, gaining confidence and beginning to make decisions about what to eat, how much rest you get, all of the stuff that most of the college athletes don’t really do well. Just try to get her to act like a pro before the time came was my goal, get her to see this is what a professional does. Then the hope that she’ll catch fire. It didn’t really happen until maybe the end of indoor. We had a come-to-Jesus moment: ‘Either we do this or we get a job after college.’”
However, Floréal never issued an ultimatum. “I don’t think that works for everybody,” he says. “I’m confrontational when it comes down to training and getting people prepared, but things like that have to be shared decisions. You can’t yell and scream at somebody to take care of themselves. I can berate you all along but when you go home you can make all the problems you want. So she had to make that decision with me that OK, I’m going to do this. We went back and forth, and eventually she started seeing the results. I’m saying not just the results on the track but results in training: ‘Hey, I’m training better, I’m able to handle training loads and I’m able to perform better.’ And then next thing the performances started coming and that becomes an addiction. So she just turned it around and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Daniels says of Floréal, “I feel like what he took away from me was negativity and doubting myself. I feel like he really helped me take that out of my being.”
They also talked about “her diet and sleeping habits and the rest of the things, massage and chiropractic, ice baths and cold tub,” Floréal says. “It wasn’t just eating; we had a laundry list of 10 things that she needed to improve upon. And they all had to do with just better lifestyle choices. You know, when practice is over get a proper cooldown, get a proper warmup before, look at the videos. We video everything and send it to her. Looking at them and critiquing them and kind of being in tune with whatever you’re doing right or you’re doing wrong. So we made all those changes and the rest of it is history.”
After Daniels PRed at 10.99 in the West Regional, the coach saw the prospect of an NCAA win at home. But Sha’Carri Richardson changed that script. “I didn’t see 10.75 coming,” Floréal says, “but I thought we had a chance to run 10.80-something and win. I was actually pretty secure that she was actually gonna win. Her training had been going fantastic. Even better than now. I thought she was gonna win and when the race was over we didn’t win.”
Daniels’ take on her NCAA 4th/200 5th is, “You know, I think, I truly believe, that I just got complacent again. I transitioned back into my freshman year when I got complacent after the 60. After I went 10.99 I was like, ‘I’m gonna just come in here, it’s my home track, I’m gonna win.’ Really, I just got complacent, and I wasn’t eating right, and I just wasn’t focused. But [after the NCAA] my focus just really went up a notch. I didn’t feel disappointed. I felt like a drive, I felt like, ‘I can be so much better than this,’ and I’m showing it now so…” (Continued below)
After a 4th-place finish in a senior-year NCAA, Floréal says, “You typically take that step back where you feel bad and you sort of want to go back into your old habits. But we began, ‘Hey, this is not the time to throw in the towel.’ Her mom got on board and we all kept pushing and that’s when we had to make a decision. You know most great athletes don’t become great until they’ve had a punch in the face, and then they have to sort of survive that.
“Actually, I have a page from [legendary San Francisco 49ers coach] Bill Walsh’s book that I got when he was the AD at Stanford. Just a handwritten page of his book and he just talks about getting beat down, getting slapped in the face, getting ripped apart and surviving and winning. I told her, ‘Well, this is what life is all about.’ So we just kept trucking. I called some people, pulled some favors and was able to get her into the Pre meet.”
In the Diamond League’s Pre Classic, Daniels placed 3rd in front of Richardson and 5 elite pros. “I was really excited when I got up to Pre,” she explained. “I was just excited to get a lane and be able to compete at that high level. Yeah, that was another driving force for me. When I got 3rd I was like, ‘Alright, I can do this for real. I’m supposed to be here like I said.’”
Now she has proved it again with her fast-closing USATF win. Daniels wants another W in Doha. It’s time now in August to manage extending a long collegiate season into the fall. The hope is to find DL lanes. “Yeah, I think it’s imperative,” Floréal says. “I think when you try to prepare to do well in Doha you have to run against these people, and that’s why I pushed so hard for her to get even into Pre, which is the end all, the be all. Race the world class athletes so when you get to USAs it’s not like, ‘I haven’t raced against any of these athletes, I haven’t done that.’ So we want to race against everybody: Dafne Schippers and Shaunae Miller-Uibo, get that out of your bucket list so when you get in a race with them it’s just like, ‘Whatever, I’ve raced against them before.’ So I prefer her to go, hopefully, Diamond League. I know there’s Birmingham and a couple left that would allow for her to get in the top open [competition] just as final preparation for the championship.”