Feature Friday: Wadeline Jonathas Has Arrived

This is a story about faith.

This is a story about belonging.

This is a story about the underdog.

This story is about Wadeline Jonathas.

September 4, 2018

Wadeline Jonathas arrives at Sheila & Morris Cregger Track for her first practice as a member of the South Carolina track & field program.

Jonathas, who transferred from NCAA Division III UMass Boston to South Carolina in the summer between her sophomore and junior year, stood out. She went from being a shark in a pond, as a nine-time NCAA DIII champion and five-time divisional record holder, to a goldfish in the ocean.

“I walked in and saw a lot of people I didn’t know,” Jonathas said. “I knew I had to prove myself.

“I also hadn’t got any of my gear yet, so I had to wear whatever I could find at home to practice. That kind of set me apart, too.”

Not one to be shy – and with a DIII-sized chip already firmly in place on her shoulder – Jonathas volunteered to be in the first heat of an 800-meter time trial (The Gamecocks sure don’t mess around). Jonathas ran one cross country race as a sophomore with the Beacons, but the farthest she ever raced all out was 500 meters, so it was going to be an adventure.

“I went out so hard, like Olympic Trials pace,” Jonathas said with a laugh. “Coming through 600, I’m thinking, ‘I’m about to pass out.’ And I was actually leading up to about 760 meters.”

Jonathas finished and quickly realized her heart rate wouldn’t drop. She tried everything – even jumping in an ice bath – but eventually had to be taken to the hospital. Jonathas came back to practice a few days later and noticed her teammates had a newfound respect.

“I didn’t want to be that girl who didn’t go for it,” Jonathas said. “I had nothing to lose.”

March 9, 2019

Wadeline Jonathas arrives at the Birmingham CrossPlex for the final day of the NCAA DI Indoor Track & Field Championships.

Just one year earlier, Jonathas put together one of the finest performances in NCAA history – regardless of division – inside that same building. Jonathas, then a member of the UMass Boston track & field program, single-handedly won the NCAA DIII team title. She outscored Williams 40-37 by herself thanks to four individual titles, becoming just the second woman in NCAA history to accomplish that feat indoors (Sheila Trice of Christopher Newport was the first in 1989). During that weekend, she also set divisional and meet records in the 60 and 200, a meet record in the 400 and won the long jump by six inches.

That previous success, however, is the last thing on Jonathas’ mind.

Instead, Jonathas is focused on what happened the day before when she didn’t make it out of the prelims. The same thing happened two weeks before that in the SEC Championships.

“I know I could have made it [to the final], but I didn’t run my race,” Jonathas said. “Going into a race in DIII, I knew I was going to win automatically, so I had a little room for error. Here, in DI, I give it my all and maybe I’ll place in the top-3. It’s a different world.”

On this day, Jonathas only had one chance – and two laps – to bounce back: She would serve as the anchor leg of South Carolina’s 4×400 relay team in the final.

“I wanted to redeem myself,” Jonathas said. “Plus, I dyed my hair grey. You can’t be extra and not compete hard.”

Jonathas received the baton in third place, some 10 meters behind the leader. She remained there until the bell lap, when she overtook Syaira Richardson of Texas A&M for second and moved up on the shoulder of Payton Chadwick of Arkansas, who led. Jonathas surged in the final 25 meters and crossed the finish line first, with not only the fastest split of the meet (51.58) – but with the time that ultimately gave the Gamecocks their fifth relay title in program history.

“I asked her, ‘Do you think people still think you don’t belong in DI?’” South Carolina assistant coach Karim Abdel Wahab said. “We laughed about it, because she had talked to me about how she had some doubts before, but she definitely silenced those critics that night.”

April 13, 2019

Wadeline Jonathas arrives at Cregger Track for the Gamecock Invitational.

There is a special buzz in the air. First, it’s South Carolina’s home opener. Secondly, athletes from USATF High Performance are entered in the meet, so it will give the current Gamecocks a solid idea of how they stack up to those athletes who are paid to chase world medals.

Still riding the wave of confidence from the indoor meet, Jonathas runs with conviction. She PRs in the 400 with a 51.56 and comes back to split a 49.7 in the 4×400 later that afternoon. In both events, Jonathas is the second across the finish line, but she closes like a freight train.

“I always knew she had it in her, but that’s the day she proved it,” Wahab said. “There is a difference between talent and world-class talent, and that day, she proved that she had world-class talent. I told her she could go 50-low before too long, if she keeps working at it.”

June 8, 2019

Wadeline Jonathas arrives at Mike A. Myers Track and Soccer Stadium for the final day of the NCAA DI Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

Jonathas will compete in the final of the 400, her first as an NCAA DI athlete. She learned from her mistakes three months earlier and ran smart in the prelims this time, winning her heat with the third fastest time out of any qualifier.

And through 300 meters of that final, Jonathas does everything to a T – just as she practiced thousands of times before. But no amount of coaching or drills can prepare an athlete for those last 100 meters of a championship race: That’s all about heart, something Jonathas has in spades.

“I told myself I wouldn’t let them get away,” Jonathas said. “God gave me this strength for a reason and I am going to use it.”

Jonathas hit another gear with 50 meters to go and powered past Sharrika Barnett of Florida for the individual title and a fresh PR of 50.60. It took Jonathas a second or two to realize that she won after she crossed the finish line, but once it set in, Jonathas smiled and started dancing like she was listening to J. Cole before a meet.

“When I’m not running, I’m dancing,” Jonathas said. “I actually had something way better planned than that, if I won – but it was tough to think, so I just went with what felt good at the time.”

July 27, 2019

Wadeline Jonathas has arrived.

There she is, standing on top of the podium inside Drake Stadium, smiling and waving a small American flag after finishing third in the final of the 400 at the USATF Outdoor Championships. She just ran a PR of 50.44, which has her currently ranked as the seventh fastest woman in the world – a far cry from the NCAA DIII bubble she started in – and more importantly, secured her spot on Team USA for the upcoming IAAF World Championships in Doha, Qatar.

Who could have predicted that Jonathas, the same athlete who ran 57.71 over 400 meters as an NCAA DIII freshman at the UMass Boston Indoor Open, will compete for a world championship at the start of her senior year?

“All I could say to someone trying to follow my path is, ‘Keep working,’” Jonathas said. “When you get to the big stage, no one knows where you came from. I’m sure there are people asking, ‘How is she a junior? I never heard of her. Where did she come from?’ Remember that you have a story of your own and that you’ve been working hard since Day 1 to get to this moment.”