Teahna Daniels, U.S. 100m champ, sprints with dangling memory of her dad
Teahna Daniels marked her surprise U.S. 100m title by embracing her mother, both in tears, and telling her, “I did it.” Daniels’ father was not there for the biggest moment of her young track career.
“I really just give this race to him,” Daniels said after winning in 11.20 seconds into a headwind on July 26 in Des Moines. Daniels, who was fourth at the NCAA Championships on June 8 and eliminated in the heats in her previous USATF Outdoor Championships appearance, clinched a spot for late September’s world championships in Doha.
Daniels sprinted with a gold necklace dangling. The word “Queen” was on one side. The date Jan. 26, 2018 on the other, marking Wellice Daniels’ sudden death of a brain seizure. He was 62.
“I know he’s always at the finish line,” Daniels told the Longhorn Network earlier this year, “and I’m running to him.”
Daniels got her start as a racer at age 8. Linda Latson marveled at her daughter, in flip-flops, beating the neighborhood boys.
“I told her, go put on some tennis shoes. I have to see this again,” Latson said. “She was just like smokin’ those boys. I was like, OK, I’m going to put you on the track team.”
Daniels swept the 100m and 200m at her Florida state high school meet her last two seasons. She matriculated at Texas, leading her father to get a Longhorns tattoo above the Florida Gator on his arm.
Come the middle of Daniels’ junior year, she mentioned to her mom that the car they had purchased in high school in Orlando, without heat, wasn’t cutting it. Winter temperatures in Austin can dip into the low 40s.
Latson bought her a new Honda Civic and told Wellice in January 2018. They divorced when Daniels was 4 but stayed in contact. Wellice and a friend offered to drive the car to their daughter, 1,100 miles in mid-January, since he was planning to visit anyway to watch her at an indoor meet.
Wellice spent a weekend with his daughter, who ended up not competing due to the flu, her mom said. He was due to fly home on Sunday, Jan. 21, but learned that his ticket was no good because he failed to show for his departing flight from Florida. Wellice called Latson to tell her that he rescheduled his return trip for Monday.
“That was our final conversation,” Latson said. “He was able to spend an extra day with her.”
Five days later, Daniels was on an elevator when she received a call from her mom, who was in a panic. One of her sisters got on the line and told her that Wellice died. She dropped and started yelling, repeatedly, “My dad!”
“All I remember is my body going numb, and I just fell to the floor, and I just started to cry,” Daniels said earlier this year. “All I want to do is really like call him. I wanted to call him and say it’s not true.”
Daniels returned to competition two weeks later. She repeated as Big 12 100m champion that May, saying afterward that it was emotional for personal reasons. Months after his death, Daniels still questioned whether she should still run. She could always turn to a voicemail she saved from her father.
Daniels’ senior season, her first under new Texas coach Edrick Floréal, was about transformation. She replaced fried foods, sweets and ice cream with fruits and vegetables. Daniels lost 19 pounds since December and said in Des Moines that she wasn’t yet at her goal weight.
Before nationals, Daniels read that she was picked to finish third. But she had been motivated since NCAAs, where she entered as one of four women in the world to break 11 seconds for the year and still clocked a strong 11.00 for fourth place.
The three women who beat her at NCAAs finished fifth, eighth and 10th at USATF Outdoors and won’t be joining her in the individual 100m at worlds. College runners often struggle to extend their peak from NCAA Championships to USATF nationals the following month.
“The goal was always October,” Daniels said, referencing the later-than-usual world championships.
Daniels beamed in the mixed zone after her win in Des Moines. She said she would celebrate by indulging at Zombie Burger. Then she tugged at her necklace.
“That day really changed my life,” she said. “It pushed me to be the person I am now.”
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