When she competes, Charonda Williams readies herself with her head down, knees bent and feet propped up in the starting blocks. A moment passes and then the pop of the starting pistol breaks the silence. She shoots forward, long legs churning and arms firing back and forth alongside her body. The race is short: 200-meter dashes last just over 20 seconds, and every step counts.
Williams is a rising star in track and field. Sprinting is her life and career, but it wasn’t always this way.
Williams, 24, grew up like many young people do in Richmond. Her mother and father were out of the picture. Her grandmother raised Williams and three of her six other siblings. Without the guidance of her parents, Williams says she got into physical altercations with peers and was kicked out of every school she went to. Teachers didn’t believe that she could change, Williams says. Many saw her as a troubled young person, just another statistic in a rough town.
But Williams was determined to prove those people wrong. “I knew that talent was going to take me far one day,” Williams says. “I just didn’t know what it was.”
Now, just a few years later, Williams hopes to be a one of the lucky few to represent the United States in the Olympics. She is training in Florida, where she now lives, to qualify for the women’s 200-meter dash at the U.S. Track and Field Trials.
Williams’ career got a late start. She first ran competitively the summer after she graduated from Gompers High School when she briefly joined the Richmond Half Steppers. Williams went on to Laney College in Oakland where she discovered her biggest strength—speed. She won the 100-and 200-meter dashes at the California Community College State Track and Field Championships in California Community College record winning times of 11.56 seconds and 23.53 seconds, respectively. Williams was a two-time community college state champion before earning a full ride to Arizona State University where she became an All-American sprinter in the 100-and 200-meter dashes.
Williams received a spot on the 2009 USA World Team and finished fourth in the 200-meter dash at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. This year, she’s looking to take on the biggest challenge of her professional life. “To go to college and get my degree, I’ve accomplished so much this far,” she says. “I eventually want to go and get a gold medal.”
With about 140 days left until the Olympics, Williams is working with coaches to improve her performance, and she plans to compete in a number of Florida meets in the coming months before the track trials in June.
But much of running, like any sport, is mental. “I try to stay calm I don’t focus too much on the competition,” Williams says. “[On] the day of the meet, I meditate, I pray a lot. I try to stay calm because you never want to freak out. …You want to have fun. You can’t be over-confident, you have to be humble. I try not to let my emotions get the best of me. I focus on my running.”
Williams’ mental strength played a large part in overcoming a difficult childhood. She says the negativity was a turning point for her and inspired her to better herself. Williams wants other young people to feel empowered in the same way. After she reaches her potential in track and retires as a professional athlete, she plans to become a counselor.
Many kids “don’t have the guidance in their lives, it’s always that the odds are against them,” she says. “I want them to know that that’s not the situation. They shouldn’t give up.”
Ultimately, Williams hopes to make her city proud and inspire others to chase their dreams. “With the city of Richmond, you hear about all these killings and all this madness,” she says. “And to have me go out there and represent them [is one way to make] our city a city of pride and purpose. People that come from Richmond are not always what the media makes them out to be.”
To learn more about Williams and her pursuit of qualifying for the Olympic team, visit her website at charondawilliams.com.