BACK IN 2005 a Ft. Lauderdale newspaper, in an article on age-group track families, mentioned, “Little sister Shakima Wimbley, 10, is waiting in the wings.”
Not anymore. Wimbley, now 25, explains, “My family has a history of track athletes: my mom, my uncle, my cousin, my brother, my sister. Being the little sister I was, I wanted to go to track practice too. I wanted to do everything they were doing.” But she admits, “I was not as good as them—at all—as a kid.”
It took a while for Wimbley to grow into the athlete she is now. “I didn’t develop a real love and passion for it until I was like 15 or 16 years old,” she says. “It’s like, ‘OK, I want to win. I want to run fast. This is something I can’t stop thinking about.’”
And then there was her height. The summer before high school started, she added 2-3 inches to hit 5-10 (1.78). “It was the weirdest thing,” she says. “The basketball coaches and a lot of people: ‘Play basketball, you have the height for it, you have the height for it!’
“I would play the position of the forward and you know what? I’m skinny. These girls were knocking me over.”
So track it was. At Dillard High in Ft. Lauderdale she was a solid 55-second 400 runner until the Conference meet her senior year, ’13, when she burst past future USC star Kendall Ellis on the last curve to crush a 53.67 PR.
“I was in disbelief; it was actually working,” she says. “My time was dropping. I remember watching the Olympics in ’12 and seeing Sanya Richards-Ross run in the 49s. I know I wasn’t too track savvy, but I was like, ‘I’m so close; I’m dropping.’
“And that was the magic moment for me. ‘OK, I’m blessed.’ That’s what triggered it for me.”
At Miami, working with Hurricane coach Amy Deem, Wimbley improved to 50.36 her senior year, along the way winning 20 ACC titles, an NCAA Indoor crown and finishing her growth spurt at 6-2 (1.88)—“I’ve been there for a while now, so I don’t know, it’s probably my max height.”
In her first go at the Olympic Trials, Wimbley admits she was “starstruck from the women that I was racing.” Left in the semis, she says, “I put in a good effort, but I don’t think my competitive instinct was where it was supposed to be to actually make the team. It’s realizing that your idols have to become your rivals. I believed I could do it, but I didn’t truly own it.”
The next year—after owning it—Wimbley found herself atop the ’17 World Championship podium with the winning 4×4 squad.
In ’18, her first full year as a pro—working with new coach Lance Brauman—she won World Indoor silver (and relay gold) and captured the USATF outdoor crown with her PR 49.52, a mark that moved her to No. 7 on the all-time U.S. list. She made her World Rankings debut in the No. 4 position. (Continued below)
She won the national title again last year but then ran into problems, explaining, “We all have that year where it’s just not one thing to point to as to why it fell apart. There were multiple situations. I was trying to figure out my [low blood iron]. I won’t blow that out of proportion because we all go through that. Some days I was tired.
“Then it was the expectations I have for myself. I just felt this was a downhill spiral. I never got my confidence and the spark last year. It was a roller coaster mentally. I put too much pressure on myself and made a lot of stuff too much of a big deal and I lost focus.”
In Doha, Wimbley won her heat in 51.17. For the semi, she grimly lined up. Out well, she led at halfway, but lost ground on the curve. With 100 left, she stopped altogether before trudging across the finish in last.
That the experience was devastating is plain from her voice: “It’s really tough for me to say, and I’m going to be very vulnerable here. That was the most—the most—embarrassing, humiliating moment of my life. Some stuff was bothering me, but I’m not gonna lie, it was mental. In that race, I don’t know what happened. I just stopped. That moment was just everything coming down on me.”
The moment led to much soul-searching . Wimbley had to decide who she was and who she needed to be. And she had to decide where she needed to be. She left Brauman (“It had nothing to do with Lance and his group or anything like that”). She moved back to Miami from Clermont and reconnected with Deem.
“My family is located here and I have a more personal relationship with her,” Wimbley clarifies. “I wanted to come back home, be humble, and put my right foot forward. It’s been a lot of me being transparent with myself, working hard. I set out a plan for myself and that’s my only focus.
“It’s like, you know what? I made a mistake. I didn’t like what happened last year. I wanted to find a solution. I’m going to go around people who understand me more, take the pressure off and spend more time with my family and doing things I like to do. Everything not being track, track, track, track, track all the time.
“I know I have the potential to do great things. I still have these big dreams. I still have these big goals, but I did what was necessary to get myself out of the funk that I was in. I know that I’m talented and I know that I work hard and I trust that with my coaching and having a family support system closer to me, I’ll be OK. I felt like it was the best decision for me to move forward.”
Wimbley made good progress over the winter, opting to skip the indoor season to focus on the Olympics. Cue the pandemic: “It’s unfortunate, but we’re all going through it. It’s a chance to get more prepared. When we come out, everybody’s going to be ready, so I think it’s a good time to really buckle down and go with the flow and see what happens.”
The death of George Floyd made for an even bigger challenge: “I’ve seen a lot of police injustice against regular citizens in my community. It’s hard to watch, it’s a hard pill to swallow, but that’s our reality. I pray for change. I hope for change. And I try to do my part as much as I can for that change.
“Some of the blessings that I have gotten from God is to be a light and to teach love instead of hate, no matter the color. I think I have the opportunity through athletics to show people it doesn’t matter about your skin color, we’re all the same. We all have dreams; we all have hopes. And I hope that young kids can see through me that there’s love and there’s light and that you can accomplish—whatever.”
In her case, Wimbley is laser-focused on the Olympics and the championships that will follow in the coming years. “There’s not much more to track & field,” she says. “You have a coach and you have the dream and you work for it. And when things come up, you learn from it and grow. You don’t quit until you reach where you feel like you’ve done everything you could.
“I’m not going to give up. I want to be one of the best. I want to do these great things. And that’s where my heart and my mind is now. So I don’t have any regrets when I wake up in the morning.”