A Matter of Time
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – Track is a sport where accomplishments are measured in hundredths. After all, its only hundredths of seconds that comes between winning and losing a race, especially when competing in the sprints.
So you can imagine how West Virginia University senior sprinter April Rotilio felt when she shaved an entire second off of her 400-meter personal best time of 53.7 to smash the school record and win her first BIG EAST Championship title in her last try.
“I don’t really know if it’s hit me yet,” she said, grinning. “It happened and there’s so much excitement about it, but to sit back and say that I ran a 52.71, sometimes I still stop myself.
“I just went into the race with the mentality that I was going to go out there and be the girl that people had to think about. I wanted to be the one to take the lead.”
Rotilio did just that. Although she hasn’t been able to see video footage of the race, teammates and spectators alike came up to her afterwards to tell her that they knew she had the title after the first 100 meters.
It all came down to confidence and decisiveness for the Bellaire, Ohio native. In years past, she had consistently finished in the top five at the BIG EAST Championships. This year, knowing that it would be her final effort, failing to win was not an option.
“I was just confident and I don’t think anyone could have beaten me that day,” she recalled. “I knew it was my senior year and I knew how disappointed I would be if I didn’t win. The coaches have been telling me for years that I could do this and I didn’t want to deal with that disappointment. It was about confidence and going out and running my race and not worrying about the other girls.”
With both the title and increased confidence in hand, Rotilio will head into today's NCAA East regional meet in Bloomington, Ind., with a legitimate shot at making it to the NCAA finals. After posting her record 52.71 three weekends ago, she’ll walk onto the track in Bloomington, Ind. ranked seventh in the region in the 400. The top 12 student-athletes advance to the finals June 8-11 in Des Moines, Iowa.
“I’m not too high up on the list where people know who I am,” she explained. “But I’m not too far down to where it would be impossible.”
In fact, after sitting down and having a chance to speak with the talented athlete, it became apparent that she welcomes each and every challenge that comes her way. She thrives off of hard work, dedication and motivation, and relishes proving people wrong when they tell her something can’t be done.
She took it to heart when people told her she couldn’t handle the balance of being a graduate student studying physical therapy and a successful student-athlete at the same time. She coolly proved her doubters wrong by earning a 3.7 GPA her first semester, and a perfect 4.0 the second.
While Rotilio admits it was a challenge, she also knew from previous years’ experience to organize and plan ahead of time. And while there were many nights spent training essentially alone in the Shell Building, it didn’t dim her enthusiasm for the sport in the least.
“When most people got to go home and relax I had to make sure I was at the Shell Building,” she said. “I had a lot of late practices at five or six at night after the girls were done.”
Rotilio didn’t start running track until high school, when she decided that playing basketball wasn’t fun anymore. Instead, she found enjoyment in running and working out and traveling. Her father, a former football player at Muskingum University in Ohio, got her started with training and traveling during her freshman year to learn and compete when other athletes in her school weren’t in season.
Now, eight years later, Rotilio is on the brink of an amazing opportunity. While her father got her started in track, former WVU track and field coach Jeff Huntoon recruited her and brought her to Morgantown. The last athlete from the Huntoon era, Rotilio is grateful for all that he did for her when he was here.
“I was able to work with him for one season,” she said. “My indoor season was good, and then I injured my ankle going into the outdoor season so I didn’t get to compete as much. I still talk to Coach Huntoon when we’re at meets because we make sure to stop and catch up and he’s always asking how we’re doing. He’s so proud of me and it’s nice that he likes to watch us and keep track of us still.”
For the rest of the time she’s competed as a Mountaineer, Coach Sean Cleary has been in charge. She credits him with bringing the team closer together.
“He will recruit girls that will come in and fit in with this team and he’s concerned with us being good students,” she said. “I don’t think he would bring in an amazing athlete if their personality was going to clash with the team. We’ve all come together and we’ve shown what we can do when we put our minds to it.”
Along with Huntoon and Cleary, Rotilio has had a mentor and training partner in fellow teammate Chelsea Carrier. The two push each other in practices and meets, improving on technique and other skills required to be successful.
“I love training with Chelsea,” Rotilio said. “She has more speed where I have more endurance. If we’re doing more of an endurance workout I’m always pushing her and cheering her on and if we’re doing a speed workout she’s cheering me on, so we have a nice mixture and great support. We definitely push off each other and feed off each other.”
For now, Rotilio’s focus remains on doing well at NCAA regionals and qualifying for the finals. She also continues to focus on her schoolwork, having just finished her first year of graduate school, with two more to go. She does take summer classes, which she just recently started after having a brief one week vacation in between semesters.
Hovering in the back of her mind is the possibility of a shot at the Olympic Trials and the USA Track and Field Championships. As with anything, if there’s even a small chance that she could be successful and make either of those teams, she’ll give it her best shot.
“Competing post-collegiately is in the beginning stages as of last week,” she admitted. “This is something I can’t leave; I still want to train lifting-wise and running-wise. I’ve been looking into the times of the “A” and “B” teams and if it’s a reachable goal for me, then I’m going to try for it. If I can go on I would love to.”
With this positive, hard working and determined attitude, there’s no limit for this Mountaineer.
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