Wynnewood >> When the Friends’ Central girls 4×400 relay finished first in the final event at the recent PAISAA Track & Field Championships in a meet record time of 3:57.91, it was fitting that two members of the quartet were Gabrielle Wilkinson and Ava Forman.
Wilkinson finished first in both the 1,600 meter run (4:55.57) and 800 meter run (2:15), and Forman finished first in the 100 meter hurdles (15.32) and the 300 meter hurdles (46.69), and second in the javelin (97-01), as the Phoenix girls won their first-ever PAISAA Track & Field Championship.
And it culminated a storied high school track career for Wilkinson, a nationally-ranked runner, and Forman, who holds all of the Friends’ Central hurdling records. Wilkinson and Forman played a key role in the Phoenix’s third consecutive Friends Schools League title earlier this spring.
Friends’ Central track head coach Brandon Shell said, “Both Ava and Gabrielle have elevated the track program, not only with outstanding performances on the track, but with their great presence of mind, on and off the track. Ava and Gabrielle changed the track culture at Friends’ Central.”
The PAISAA Track & Field Championships May 21 was a day that neither Wilkinson nor Forman are likely to forget.
Forman, who will compete for the Washington University in St. Louis track team this fall, said, “Last year, we finished third at the PAISAA championships, and it was our primary goal this spring to win it. After finishing the 4×400, I went over to my coach to ask for my split. He told me that not all the points were in yet, but it looked like we had placed first overall. I ran over to my teammates who were still hunched over, recovering from the race, and we all embraced. I was overcome with a sense of pride in my team and excitement for our growth over the past four years.”
Wilkinson, who will run for the University of Florida this fall, said, “It was a great feeling to cross the line first in the 800 and in the1600, knowing that I helped to put my team in position to win the state title. My high school track career ended on a great note with a state title. I will forever cherish that moment.”
Wilkinson, whose running times have ranked among the top national marks in the United States, holds six individual Friends’ Central indoor records (600 meters, 800 meters, 1500 meters and the mile set at the 2016 New Balance Games and the 1,000 meters at the 2015 Armory Track Invitational) and the 3,000-meter. She also was part of a Friends’ Central relay team that holds three indoor records (distance medley relay set at the New Balance Indoor Nationals; 4×800 relay set at PTFCA Indoor Carnival; and 4×400 relay set at the VA Showcase Jan. 20 with a clocking of 4:00.7).
Wilkinson also holds three Friends’ Central outdoor individual records (800 meter run, 1,600 meter run, and the 3,200 meter run) along with part of five school record-setting Friends’ Central outdoor relay teams (4×100, 4×200, 4×400, 4×800, sprint medley relay.)
Shell said, “Gabrielle is a special athlete, driven, and a hard worker. Her quiet demeanor has nothing to do with her fierce competitive edge when she steps foot on the track. Her years at FCS have been magical.
“Gabrielle is that special athlete that has that rare ‘thing’ that coaches cannot teach, cannot really describe, or know where it comes from. She has the ‘It’ factor that comes from deep down within and pushes herself to another level.
“Throughout her career, she’s faced a ton of adversity, but all the while being mentally focused, tough, and determined to reach her national level of success, being ranked No. 1 in the United States several times during her remarkable Friends’ Central track career. There is nothing she cannot do once she steps on the zone track, yet Gabrielle is the most humble and unassuming athlete and congratulates everyone on their race.”
Friends’ Central athletic director Michelle Crowley added, “Gabrielle is a tremendous athlete and person. She has innate ability, but her character and selflessness as a runner is striking. She will do anything for her team, even if that means giving up an individual event so that more girls can run.”
Wilkinson said her most memorable experience as a Friends’ Central track athlete was when she won the Millrose Games with a personal-best 4:42 in the mile run.
“I was able to share the experience with some of the best athletes in the world,” said Wilkinson. “I had a tremendous amount of support from family and friends, my Athletic Director [Michelle Crowley] and from my Head of School [Craig Sellers], who all came down to watch and to cheer me on.”
Forman holds the Friends’ Central records in the 55 meter hurdles (8.98), the 60 meter hurdles (9.56), the 100 meter hurdles (15.32), and the 300 meter hurdles (45.83). Last year, 10 days after dislocating a shoulder in the 300 meter hurdles, she finished first at the Friends’ Schools League championships in the 100 meter hurdles, setting a school record of 15.36 (which she since broken).
Forman, who was a team captain this spring, also has been part of every major Friends’ Central relay accomplishment and is a multi-event athlete (hurdles, sprints, mid-distance, and throws) who competed in four events at every FCS meet.
“Off the track, Ava set the bar high for all future captains,” said Shell. “She is selfless and was encouraging to everyone on the team. She uplifted her teammates at practice and meets, and supported the opposing team’s athletes.”
At the Friends’ Schools League championships this spring, Forman’s favorite memory was finishing alongside her younger sister Lyla (a sophomore at FCS) in both the 100 meter hurdles and 300 meter hurdles, with Ava and Lyla placing 1-2 in each event.
“This year, we had four girls competing in hurdle events, and most of the girls were new to hurdles, so I took the role of mentoring them in the events,” said Forman. “I found teaching my sister and the other hurdlers to be a great learning experience.”
Speaking of sisters, Wilkinson credits her older sibling Elyse, who had clocked 2:25 in the 800 meter run at age nine, for her development as a runner and as a person.
“Elyse has been my biggest influence and role model on and off the track. I can always depend on her for support and for guidance. She has never missed a major meet and is one of the loudest cheerers I ever known. My sister always reminded me to trust the process and to have patience due to God’s perfect timing. Truly she has been a blessing in my life and I am so grateful to have her.”
Wilkinson comes from a family of track athletes. Her grandfather, Mervin Wilkinson, was a quarter-miler; her father, Gregory Wilkinson, was a hurdler; and her mother, Lola Sergeant, was a fine 800-meter runner and has been an official at the Penn Relays.
At the Penn Relays, Wilkinson has anchored the Friends’ Central girls 4×800 and 4×400 relays, and played a key role in the latter quartet reaching the finals while missing the 4×800 finals in the Championship of America by a couple of hundredths of a second.
“It was an exciting and nerve-racking experience competing at Penn Relays, coming around the Hall of Fame [area] as the spectators cheered me on,” said Wilkinson.
This fall, Wilkinson will attend the University of Florida, where she will run for the track team and major in Applied Physiology and Kinesiology.
Shell said, “Through the example set by Gabrielle and Ava, the energy and enthusiasm of our younger runners has taken hold and contributed to the success of the Friends’ Central team, guaranteeing those athletes a very bright future.”
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