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Monday, May 20, 2024

Transfer Allison Wilson shares her journey overcoming injury

Wilson speaks on physical, mental health as an athlete

Redshirt senior Allison Wilson points to the sky after she finished first for the Florida Gators in the Mountain Dew Invitational at Mark Bostick Golf Course on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023.
Redshirt senior Allison Wilson points to the sky after she finished first for the Florida Gators in the Mountain Dew Invitational at Mark Bostick Golf Course on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023.

Florida transfer and redshirt senior Allison Wilson gave it her all in the world of cross country since her days as an Alabama distance runner.

The Texas native recorded a career-best time in the 5,000- and 10,000-meter run at the 2021 Outdoor SEC Championships. Behind the scenes, though, she dealt with physical and mental health strains that put pressure on her to keep up in the sport she loved.

Wilson came face-to-face with her injuries and the decision to put a pause on her running career during the 2021 season.

Her passion for running never faded. After a two-year break, she returned to competing at the SEC level for the Florida Gators cross country team’s 2023 season.

Wilson found her love for running by accident at 13. Her parents placed her in multiple sports to see what she gravitated toward most growing up.

During her eighth-grade basketball tryouts, she had to consistently run to make the team, she said. At first, she felt it was a punishment, but eventually grew a love for running and dropped playing basketball.

“It was the first time in my life I felt that I really clicked with something,” she said. “I felt equally passionate about something.”

Her first experience with competition began in high school. She was blessed with a great coach to guide her through all four years and the college recruitment process, she said. Wilson went on to compete as a distance runner at Alabama in 2019.

She had an amazing experience having an entire team of girls who were equally dedicated to training as she was, she added. Just a few months later, her running career began to take a different turn.

In February 2020, she announced her decision to not compete in the Spring 2020 cross-country season due to an injury. Wilson put a lot of work into running and became frustrated, she said.

She gave her body a break for a few months and then competed at the 2021 SEC outdoors but felt unhappy and unlike herself, she said.

“I felt like I was declining mentally,” she said. “The love I had for the sport from the beginning, when I was in eighth grade, I didn't have that passion anymore.”

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Allison suffered two sacrum stress fractures that held her back physically and mentally. After a long period of painful runs, speaking with her coach and praying with her family, she medically retired in August 2021, she said.

Wilson felt she properly healed during that break. She took a year off from running, and made it her objective to discover her identity outside the sport, she said.

She found something that gave her equal fulfillment to running: assistant coaching for a local high school distance track team alongside head coach Jerome Franks.

Franks has been head coach at Central High School in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for five years. Having Wilson as a coach was a game-changer for the program, Franks said.

“She is a well-rounded, hard-working person,” he said. “She brings the best out of anyone she's around.”

She worked with the distance athletes full time, building confidence within them and helping them understand the bigger picture of running distance, Franks said.

Despite what she endured during that period, she sat with each athlete to share positive feedback and helped them strategize to obtain personal records.

Wilson was invited to participate in a workout at the Alabama track and field facility in January.

While there, she turned down the opportunity from a coach asking if she’d be interested in transferring to compete at the SEC level again, she said. She wanted to see where she could go on her own but began to give it a lot of thought.

When she brought the idea of competing again to Frank, he said he was supportive and on board with the decision.

“Watching you run with these kids, the smile you have and the motivation, I can see you want to get back to it,” he told Wilson. “And you can do it.”

Wilson turned to her faith in Christianity two years ago when she decided to medically retire. Her faith also became a driving factor in her comeback to the sport, she said. She gives credit to God who directed her decision to begin the transfer process to run again.

Wilson gained immediate attention from multiple schools she never reached out to before.

After visiting UF, she ultimately fell in love with the program and decided to commit. The Florida Gators cross country team announced her transfer from Alabama May 29.

UF cross country coach Will Palmer coached Wilson during his time at Alabama from 2019 to 2021. He said Wilson is very mature and well-grounded.

“I think her journey through injury really demonstrated how resilient she is,” Palmer said. “How much she truly loves this sport.”

Although Wilson is a relatively older collegiate runner, she has helped lead the UF women’s team as it competes at the high NCAA level.

“She’s got a lot she can still learn,” Palmer said. “Seeing her gain experience from race to race will be very exciting.”

Wilson made her Florida debut Sept. 15 at the Mountain Dew Invitational finishing first in the 5K with a time of 16:38.7. She led the women's team to a first-place finish.

“Coming from everything that has happened, I have a lot of goals set for myself,” Wilson said. “I'm excited to see what I can do and what can happen.”

The recently-named SEC Cross Country Champions will host the 2023 NCAA South Regional Nov. 10.

Contact Hailey Hurst at hhurst@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @haileyjhurst.

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Hailey Hurst

Hailey Hurst is a second-year journalism major with a focus in sports media and a sports reporter for The Alligator. In her free time, she enjoys going to the beach and cheering for Miami sports teams.


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