Advertisement

It hasn't taken long for USC sprinter Twanisha Terry to become elite

It hasn't taken long for USC sprinter Twanisha Terry to become elite
USC's Twanisha Terry, center, competes in the NCAA track and field championships in Eugene, Ore., on June 7, 2018. (John McGillen / USC)

The notebook is red, with the word “elite” printed across the front in black. It is here where USC sophomore sprinter Twanisha Terry records her goals like a checklist.

When she arrived at USC the summer before her freshman year, Terry looked up school records for each event she runs and wrote them down. To coach Caryl Smith Gilbert, Terry’s times at practice before the season and her effort on every sprint hinted at the possibilities. She pulled Terry aside and set one goal above the rest.

Advertisement

“There’s a record you need to get, and that’s Angela Williams’ school record,” Smith Gilbert told her.

Terry wrote about that goal, 100 meters in 11.04 seconds, in black pen; her neat, curvy handwriting filled the page in her notebook. Williams set the record as a freshman in 1999 to win her first of four NCAA titles in the 100; she eventually competed in the Olympics.

“That’s never really been done, a freshman run that fast,” Smith Gilbert said. “So I told TeeTee, ‘You can do that, but you have to do these things, do this, this, this.’ And she actually did it.”

Nine months after writing down her goal, Terry achieved it, running 100 meters in 10.99 seconds at the Mt. San Antonio relays in April. She went on to earn first team All-America honors, was named Pac-12 freshman of the year, and helped the USC women win the outdoor national championship. This year, Terry has emerged as a leader for the Trojans, who start their indoor season at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Collegiate Invitational on Friday in Albuquerque.

As a freshman, Terry’s teammates introduced her as “the mom of the group,” redshirt junior Angie Annelus said, because of how swiftly she swoops in to meet their needs, whether that be listening to them vent or bringing medicine when Annelus was sick.

At practice Terry immediately reviews video of her repetitions, seeking improvements, and regularly sends herself clips to watch in her free time. She wakes up early to do extra stretches and thousands of reps of core exercises. Smith Gilbert says her grade-point average is 3.8.

“She’s like the perfect model of a teammate — I’m not even just saying that just for the purpose of this [story],” Annelus said. “Like, she really is.”

Terry’s Instagram biography reads: “Fear NOTHING when I’m on the track,” which Smith Gilbert and Annelus confirmed. Neither has ever seen her nervous. Terry warms up with sunglasses on — she once almost forgot to remove them before a race — and spends the time before races asking teammates how they feel. Smith Gilbert said Terry executes every game plan seemingly free of mental obstacles, never quitting or losing steam. Her fearlessness sets an example for the team.

“She gives them a bit of a confidence in not being afraid,” Smith Gilbert said. “They watch TeeTee, and I watch the upperclassmen say, ‘That freshman is not afraid of anybody. So why are we?’ ”

Terry had the same work ethic at Northwestern High in Miami. She avoided unhealthy food and postponed weekend plans with friends to attend track meets out of town and get extra sleep before practices.

“If I was to be seen eating junk and stuff like that, then my teammates would think that’s OK for them to do it as well,” Terry said. “So I had to like, be mindful of the things I was doing, not knowing who was watching me.”

Terry worked hard because her father, Antwan Terry, did, too; he woke up early for his job and spent days off doing additional work. Terry qualified for the Junior Olympics at age 9, her first year running competitively, and the trip to Greensboro, N.C., was her father’s first time on a plane. He came to almost every meet, and if he wasn’t there in person he gave her a pep talk over the phone before her race.

Advertisement

Terry almost quit. In her second summer of track she was 10 or 11, and her coach began grooming her to run 1,200 meters. The distance left her crying in the middle of the field inside the track, where her father found her as he hurried from work to her practice.

“What’s your problem?” Terry remembers her father asking. “What’s wrong?”

She said: “My leg’s tired. I wanna go back home to my mama.”

Instead, her father helped her stretch her hamstrings as she lay on the field.

“You good?” Terry remembers him saying. Then he said: “Now get up and run.”

She did, and she has ever since.

Terry always thought she would go to Florida, until she met Smith Gilbert as a high school sophomore at an event in Florida. Once she researched USC, she was drawn to the school’s academics and alumni network, along with its talented track team. She committed, and adjusted seamlessly after the cross-country move.

Through her actions Terry has established herself as a leader, Annelus said. Terry escalated her performance even more in the offseason, perfecting her technique on the track and in the weight room to become even more explosive when she bursts from the starting block.

“We’re gonna see crazy things from TeeTee this year,” Annelus said. “The way she’s practicing this fall. the world’s gonna be shocked by TeeTee.”

Terry got a second notebook from her idol, former U.S. Olympian Carmelita Jeter, with “Team Jet” written across the front. That’s where Terry records the details of every race — her time, the number of rounds she ran, the weather, date and location. Smith Gilbert said Terry studies track constantly.

When the Trojans made their unlikely comeback in the 1,600-meter relay to win the national championship last year, Terry was standing on the fence around the track, shouting as she waved her fist in the air. She has watched video of that moment more times than she can count. Then-seniors Kendall Ellis and Deanna Hill inspired her as a freshman; she aims to do the same this year.

Watching and leading, all at once.

Advertisement
Advertisement