Foster’s Olivia Williams shows toughness few can dream of.
Born three months premature and struck with cerebral palsy, Williams has been in a wheelchair all her life. That would qualify as a challenge.
Williams is not content to simply blend in but stepped out and took on the challenge of wheelchair racing. That would qualify as rising to a challenge.
“That kid’s tough,” said Foster track and field coach Bill Napier. “She’s just tough as nails.”
The freshman, 15, trained for three months to compete in the state cross-country meet last fall. Now, she’s ready to take on the competition during track season.
“She’s blossomed,” Napier said. “And it’s her work ethic that has taken her there more than anything else.”
Williams, who works out on the track and Neudorf Stadium, does have her moments when things get tough.
“Sometimes I have to say positive things to myself,” Williams said. “At times my self esteem gets a little low because I’m a lot slower than everyone else because they’re all running.”
But at that point quitting is not an option.
“I just tell myself, ‘You can do it, you’re going to keep getting faster’,” she said.
Napier recognized Williams’ potential when she was attending Showalter Middle School, where he teaches. He found out she was a basketball player and wondered if she would be interested in competing against other wheelchair athletes in cross-country and track at the high-school level.
“I knew nothing about it, and I’m still learning a lot,” Williams said. “It’s just really fun. It’s fun to be active.”
She finished second out of two at the state cross-country meet, but the real joy was finally getting to compete after all the training.
“It was so fun,” she said of state. “But also very nerve-racking.”
And there’s still plenty of work to do.
“I’m still learning the technique,” she said. “It’s very hard and I’m pretty sloppy at it, but that’s OK.”
Making the process tougher is that Williams is the only wheelchair athlete on this side of the state, as far as Napier knows. That means finding race competition is always going to be tough.
As Williams continues to pick up the sport and Napier continues to learn the best ways to coach her, the two hope she can see more race action during the track season at invitationals, and eventually state.
Napier is optimistic about Williams’ potential. He said his goal is to present her with all of the available options to compete, even after high school.
Outside of Williams, the Bulldogs have plenty of talent on the team. One athlete to watch is sophomore Sierra Parsons. Parsons finished seventh at districts in the 400-meter dash, missing state by just 0.08 seconds. Parsons also took ninth in the long jump at the district meet.
Another standout is junior Yohana Salzano. Salzano placed ninth in the 800 and 11th in the 1,600 at districts last year. She has also placed in ninth at the state cross-country meet in the fall.
Senior Sahara Hill made districts in the shot put, javelin and high jump last year. She missed making state by two inches in the high jump.
On the boys side, seniors Mikhail Jackson and Morya Breland. Both made districts last season, Jackson in the 100 and 400, Breland in the 400.
Junior Micah Breland has already set personal bests in the 200 (24.64 seconds), 400 (54.14) and 300-meter hurdles (43.36) this season.
Juniors Ryan Keo and Chris Sanchez made sub-districts in pole vault last year. Senior Anthony Manago took second in the long jump at the Arnie Young Invite April 7 with a distance of 20 feet, 11 inches.