The Ocoee track team has come a long way. A big part of that is thanks to sprinters such as Jeremiah Fails and Alliyah Allwood.
Before she even approaches the line, Ocoee senior Alliyah Allwood already feels the weight of the moment.
Just the sound of the starting gun going off for the races before hers makes her antsy — it’s like that before every race.
“Sometimes, I really want to get it over with, so that I could go again,” Allwood said. “But I always talk to God in my head, and I always pray before I start my race. I always ask him to be there with me, because I can’t do this by myself.”
Allwood isn’t the only one calling upon a higher power at the starting blocks. Teammate and fellow 100m/200m sprinter Jeremiah Fails goes through the same process when it comes to his running.
But as soon as the gun sounds, the pre-race jitters for the two are a thing of the past. Both have only a little more than 328 feet to claim their prize.
It’s a quick, blazing sprint from start to finish, but it still requires a technical mindset to get the most out of themselves, Fails said.
“I’m quick at adapting,” Fails said. “I know that, ‘Now it’s technique time, now it’s stride time.’ Usually when I get about 40 meters into the race, that’s when the race really starts. It’s time to burn up and get it.”
The process has worked well for the seniors. Over the last month, the two have picked up district titles in the 100m — with Fails setting a personal record with a time of 10.60. On Saturday, April 27, Allwood took first in the 100m at the Class 4A, Region 1 — earning her a spot at states — while Fails will take part in the 200m.
The impressive stats and outings are the culmination of years of honing their technique. Allwood’s journey started by accident, when she was growing up in her home country of Jamaica.
“I didn’t know I could run at first,” Allwood said. “The thing is, my elementary school, the coach of the track team saw me running at sports day. Way back then, I ran timid, and then he was like, ‘Come to practice, come to practice!’ And that’s how I started running — I was about 8 or 9.”
It wasn’t until eighth grade that Allwood realized she had a knack for running. The school she was attending wasn’t good at track, but other schools were trying to recruit her. That’s when things clicked.
Fast-forward to her junior year — when she arrived at Ocoee High — and Allwood was ready to take on the new challenge of running track in the United States. Allwood’s surroundings are not the only things that have changed.
“My form changed — I ran really horribly,” Allwood said. “Everything changed; my determination changed, and my drive changed, as well. I wanted to go to a better school, and I wanted to go to college — my dreams got bigger.”
Fails’ start in running also came at a young age, although his love for the sport grew out of another sport: football.
He played Pop Warner as a kid.
“When I first touched a field or a football, it was always with older kids — we would just be racing from light pole to light pole, mailbox to mailbox,” said Fails, who was a slot receiver on the Ocoee football team.
“My form changed — I ran really horribly. Everything changed; my determination changed, and my drive changed, as well. I wanted to go to a better school, and I wanted to go to college — my dreams got bigger.”
— Alliyah Allwood
Although Fails found success in those early days, it wasn’t until the passing of his mother in 2009 that he found the motivation to be better than he had been before.
The weight of a moment like that could lead to one of two outcomes: It could set him back, or it could move him forward. Luckily for Fails, it was the latter scenario.
“I believe it maybe made me a better person,” Fails said. “I probably wouldn’t be where I’m at today.”
That kind of attitude has been a big part of the success for both Fails and the Ocoee track-and-field team this season, which included a depleted roster and an injury to Allwood before the season even started.
Regardless of those struggles, things have worked out well for them and the team, said first-year head coach David Peaco.
While Fails and Allwood head to states this weekend, the future after Ocoee is bright for both stars. Both have received offers to play in college.
“I just want to secure my scholarship to go to college,” Allwood said. “And to PB (personal best) and run a very, very fast time, and to be better than I was yesterday.”