One of our incredibly talented rabbitELITE team members, Ericka Charles, shares the inspiring story of her excellent high school running career, how that turned into a disappointing college career, but how she overcame that to reveal a very bright post-collegiate future ahead!
I graduated from the College of Health and Human Performance at East Carolina University in 2011 where I learned to love biomechanics; everything about body's movement and the different muscle groups. Believe it or not, I do 500 crunches a night to keep my six-pack shredded and so I can earn my favorite food, pizza, in the off-season. For fun, while on long runs, I calculate splits in my head - I have this thing for research and crunching numbers which makes me a better runner.
I started my track and field career in 8th grade under the tutelage of my teacher, Cheryl Bowden. During class, after our warm-up and stretching, the class was asked to run two laps around the gym bleachers. I was very fast and would sprint, instead of jogging. I caught and passed everyone, including the boys. Coach Bowden was also the head coach for the middle school girls' track team. Sometimes, she would give the class a head start running and then release me to catch up to everyone. It was fun for me to chase the class. Almost every day after that, Coach Bowden asked me to join the track team. So, in the Spring of 2003, I cut my baby track teeth in the sprints. I ran the 100m and 200m, and ran on both the 4x100m and 4x200m relays.
In 2004, I joined my high school’s track team under Coach Dexter Mitchell. He recognized me from middle school and asked me if I had planned on coming out for track in high school. Indoor track was new to me. I ran the 60m dash and 300m run. The only race I ran was the High School Eastern Challenge. Our head coach, Ralph France, had me racing the sprints during the 2004 outdoor track season. I was fortunate to make it to the State Championships, but did not win any medals in my individual events, only in the relays. Although disappointed with my individual efforts, I was ecstatic with the team's efforts and felt inspired to improve my own times.
During the summer of 2004, I joined the Durham Striders Youth Track Club. I made a ton of friends from different high schools in Durham and traveled to a few new competition venues. It was during this time I was introduced to the 400m. The Quarter Mile is a BEAST!!!! I was not quite sure how to run the race as I was only accustomed to running shorter distances, so there was a bit of a learning curve my first year.
During my sophomore year, Coach France insisted I run on the cross-country team to build up my endurance. In my first race, when I heard the gun go off, I took off sprinting; sprinters do not understand what it means to “pace”. During the season, after each race I got stronger and smarter. As I learned how to hold a reasonable pace, my fast track “kick” at the end of my race paid dividends. With 400m left, I would “put on the jets” and sprint past many opponents. That year I earned the Gatorade Rookie of the Year and won the Most Improved Athlete awards.
I worked very hard while in high school and won many medals in my new signature events the 200m and 400m, as well as 4x100m, 4x200m and 4x400m relays. I even earned Track Athlete of the Year during my junior year.
Senior year was special to me as I did exceptionally well in the conference and regional finals earning all-conference and all-regional accolades. I remember sitting at the breakfast table the morning of the state meet, eating my standard big bowl of farina and feeling something heavy on my heart. My mom could see there was something bothering me and asked what was the matter. I remember taking a long pause, and saying, “I wonder what it feels like to make the top ten and stand on the stage?” Without missing a beat, my mom said, “There’s only one way to find out”.
I had to find out how it felt.
There I was, a natural sprinter, at the cross-country state meet, with approximately 100 middle and long-distance girls who also wanted a shot at the top ten. I was shaking like a nervous Chihuahua. The gun went off and so did I, staying in a good position, somewhere in the middle of the pack. Then, something inside of me said, “Ericka, you've got this”. I picked up the pace and passed several girls, continuing to run faster and passing more girls. The crowd was cheering and screaming. I knew I was at the end of the race, so, I turned on the jets and flew through the forest finishing in 9th place and running a solid 19:26. It was an awesome feeling entering the indoor season on a new high. With newfound confidence, I took on the 500m and won my very first state title, with my time ranked 4th fourth fastest ever in the state!
My success running in high school earned me a scholarship to East Carolina University. Unfortunately, things did not work out well for me in college as I grew more and more discouraged with each performance. For four years, I came in determined, but left the season feeling humiliated and upset with myself.
Then during the 1983 National Basketball Championship when NC State defeated Houston by a dunk in the final seconds by Lorenzo Charles, my Uncle Lo as I affectionately called him, was killed in a bus crash in 2011.
He meant the world to me and we shared a special bond. One of my fondest moments was dancing the father-daughter waltz with my uncle in the Delta Sigma Theta Jabberwock Cotillion. I realized, after Uncle Lo’s death, life is too short and I should not let an unsuccessfully collegiate season stop me from pursuing my dreams in track.
My mom has always been supportive of my goals so she helped coach me and supported my post-collegiate meets. I felt my 400m time was not getting any faster, so it made sense to move up in distance and focus on the 800m.
A year later, I met Coach Richard Anderson from Missouri. Coach Rich specialized in distance training. Under his coaching, I continued to improve my 800m time. I remained with Coach Rich for three years, but unfortunately did not make it to the USATF National Championships. My races just didn’t seem to unfold the way I had envisioned and I wasn’t sure if I should continue with the sport.
In 2016, I made the decision to start with a new coach. I contacted well-renowned Coach George “Pup” Williams and joined his team of Elites and the G.W. Express Track Club. where I got the opportunity to train with some of the best in the world. They welcomed me with open arms and it was the change I needed to reinvigorate my love for the track.
We have fun, but it is no-nonsense and everyone works hard. Coach Williams and Coach Sandy Chapman broke me down. They had to fix EVERYTHING about how I executed the daily drills and my racing strategy. They did it with discipline and with care. As a result, I broke my own PRs in the 800m (2:06.11), 1000m (2:47.93), and 400m (56.88). I broke several meet records and currently have the facility record in the 1K at Liberty University.
I am looking forward to the upcoming 2017/2018 Indoor/Outdoor track season as a rabbitELITE! The best is yet to come!