STARTING ALL OVER. Of her short-lived ’20 pandemic campaign, sprinter TeeTee Terry says, “I feel like was on track for a great season. I opened up with a 7.15 in New Mexico, so going into Nationals, I was in a great head space, ready to run fast, execute my race and win some team titles with my team, and be on track to get through the outdoor season and compete at the Olympic Trials.”
The reigning 60 champion, Terry, like her USC teammates, was in Albuquerque preparing to race Nationals the next day when the collegiate-shutdown news hit.
“When we heard about the pandemic, I was still training,” she says, “because there was still hope about the Olympics happening, but then eventually the Olympics weren’t happening any more.
“I took time off. I wasn’t training constantly, like I was prior to the shutdown. I was doing little stuff here and there just to keep my body moving to stay in shape. There were some days I took as much time as I needed because it’s not like we were in a rush for a specific competition.
“I was using that time to downtime, to enjoy my family and friends, visiting different people, which is not something I do when I’m in-season. I was using the time to make the most of it. I also picked up a new hobby, crocheting, so that’s what I was doing.”
It had been three years since Terry came from Miami to run for coach Caryl Smith Gilbert and the USC Trojans. The 11.37/23.21 performer had gone from being a prep All-America recruit to a major contender.
As a frosh, she zipped 10.99, placing 3rd in the NCAA, winning USATF Juniors, and taking silver at the World Juniors. In the 200 she improved to 22.74.
She explains her improvement: “The training was very different. We focused on running zones of the race, whereas in high school I was just running to run. At USC I understood, ‘This is how you run a 100; this is the zone, this mark, that mark.’ And I incorporated weights into my training here at USC. I realized that at a lot of colleges all the coaches were basically doing Olympic lifting. In high school, we never touched the weightroom except to do a little circuit of abs and stuff like that.”
Still, she says, “My high school experience definitely prepared me for my training here at USC.”
In ’19, the soph-version Terry won the NCAA Indoor in a PR 7.14, ran a PR 10.98 for another 3rd outdoors, and anchored the Trojans to the 4×1 title. She later placed 5th at the USATF in Des Moines before opting to go to the Pan-Ams, placing 5th.
Of her Iowa experience, she says, “I was able to compete with high-caliber women and get a feel of what it would be like to — somewhat — compete at the Olympics. I made the team to compete against Europe but I turned all those down because I was on track to graduate in three years. By going to that… I don’t think USC was going to allow me to miss so many days of class.
“I just decided to wait it out and continue with my education and complete my goals education-wise.”
That’s another thing Terry did in her first three years in LA: she got her degree in Communications & Journalism. Now she is working on a master’s in Entrepreneurship & Innovation.
At times she took up to 20 units in a semester, but she says it wasn’t that hard to be a motivated student and a world-class athlete at the same time. “It just takes a lot of time management and that’s something I’m good at. I like to write out my goals on paper and I knew what I wanted to accomplish.
“I knew what head space I needed to be in, what was required of me and what I had to do if I wanted to achieve those goals and graduate in three years.”
The schedule made for some long days. One year she had Wednesdays that stretched from 4 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. “Some people, even those who weren’t in sports, were like, ‘That’s hard. How are you going to do that?’ But I knew what I wanted to accomplish and taking those classes in fall was going to set me up to be on track, as opposed to trying to take 20 units in the spring when we were traveling.”
Her accelerated academic schedule intersected with the pandemic to create an unlikely phenomenon in the collegiate track world: a grad student entering her junior year of outdoor eligibility.
A fourth year won’t likely happen. “The rules keep changing,” she says, indicating that by ’22 she has hopes of running professionally.
That’s to be sorted out in the future. Right now, Terry, who turned 22 in January, is focused solidly on NCAA competition. And that means working closely with Smith Gilbert, who has guided some of the planet’s best.
“One thing about me,” says Terry, “is I build relationships with my coaches because it’s good to have a good relationship with your coach, especially someone that you plan to take you to the next level, to get you to achieving those Olympic goals.
“She’s someone that I can talk to about anything aside from track and can get her perspective and feedback on things. When I have other things going on in my life or am trying to make decisions — or even on the track when I may not give my all and she can tell I have more to give, she will always tell me, ‘I’m not going to let up on you because I know what you’re capable of. I know what you can do.’
“She also prepares her women — and her men as well — with what we can expect in the real world once we’re done competing. She does a great job of mentoring outside of athletics.”
Already, the two have begun the task of starting over, and recapturing that junior year — that Olympic year — that evaded them in 2020. With a pair of 7.13 PRs in her second meet of the season, Terry appears to be on track. Her nose is to the grindstone. “I just know that we want to do whatever we need to do and make sure I work on the little things and just continue to execute.”