Track skill runs in the family for Sumter High's Nicole and Simone Wells.
Nicole is a senior who will be a member of Appalachian State's track team after graduating, while Simone is currently an eighth-grader at Alice Drive Middle School with four more years of varsity experience ahead of her.
This spring season will be the last time they run together on the same team at this level.
PASSING THE BATON
There's a symbolic factor in Simone being the third leg of Sumter's 4x400 relay team with Nicole as the anchor: the transfer of the baton. It's somewhat reflective of what will happen for the Wells family once Nicole departs after this year and Simone begins her high school years.
"Seeing that is one of my moments as a mother," Denise Wells said of watching the baton exchange. "Any time I see them get awarded is nice as well. I really have to sit back and marvel at them and what they've been able to accomplish. Nicole being able to win Nationals last year and Simone being able to get varsity experience before high school is just a blessing to see."
A BIG SACRIFICE
Track wasn't Nicole's and Simone's first sport. The sisters started as gymnasts. They were pretty good at it, too, qualifying for regionals on multiple occasions growing up. There was a time where they did both gymnastics and track, but scheduling made that hard to continue. About three years ago, Nicole made the decision to take on track full time and Simone followed suit.
"It was really emotional," Nicole explained. "I'd say it was very stressful because gymnastics was my first love. Letting gymnastics go was a little hard for me, and I still miss it at times, but I love track and I enjoy it."
"I also miss gymnastics a lot," Simone added. "I feel like I probably could have done it a little longer because there was a period for maybe a year where I wasn't doing either. But once I started track, I never looked back."
A WILL TO WIN
Both sisters have strong confidence in their abilities. Part of that can be attributed to the amount of self-belief their parents have instilled in them.
"We tell them that they can do whatever it is that they put their mind to," Denise explained. "We also tell them to stay humble and grounded. We try to tell them to make sure they give God His glory for what they have been able to achieve and accomplish and because the talents and skills that they possess are basically a gift. We as parents remain grateful that we've been blessed with two wonderful children."
Nicole has been almost the perfect role model in Simone's eyes. Nicole's presence is one Simone truly can't appreciate enough. The feats that Nicole has accomplished serve as benchmarks for Simone as she continues to progress.
"At first in track, you don't see immediate results," Simone explained. "You have to stick with it. You have to lose some races before you win some. That was really the hardest part because I wasn't the best, so having Nicole as a role model has been great. Seeing her accomplishments has been extra motivation. I think she's a really good role model. She inspires me a lot. I think it's good that I have somebody that's so close to me that I have as a role model. I can ask her about different things, and not just with track but just in general as a big sister.
"I think I have a big advantage because a lot of people my age don't have the opportunity that I have, or the experience that I've had with Nicole as my role model. I look at Nicole's marks and try to pass them a lot. She used to long jump, so I look at her long jump PRs at this age versus mine and do the same with her running times."
Nicole feels Simone is going to be as great or even better than she is. That's because she sees her work just as hard. Nicole takes pride in being the one to set the example for Simone. There's also a joy Nicole finds in conceding her best marks and times to her sister as Simone continues to grow.
"I knew it would take a lot of hard work to get to where I'm at today," Nicole said of her work ethic. "I feel great about myself, seeing her do the great things she does, knowing that I'm able to teach her some things. Some things she learns from me, and there are some things that she teaches me, so I learn from her as well. It's exciting to be her role model, I feel good about it. She makes me happy every day.
"It feels good (to see her surpass me) because I always want what's best for her. And if she's gonna be better than me, then she better be better than me. That's good for her, and I'm proud of her for that."
NIKE NATIONALS IN NEW YORK
One of the bigger moments for the family was in March of last year when Nicole went to New York and won the 200m dash at the Nike Indoor Nationals. They joke about it now, but Nicole almost didn't go because her father, Derrick, was having some reservations.
"They pick at me all the time about that, they say I almost blocked her blessing," Derrick said. "I definitely wasn't too sure she should go to the Nike Invitational for nationals even though she had qualified and her track coach suggested it. I didn't want her to go out there and maybe get her feelings hurt.
"She went and she qualified for the finals, and she eventually won it. We were in the house watching on the laptop, and when she won it, I stood up and started screaming, 'She won it! She won it!' My wife was like, 'See. And you didn't want to let her go.' Nicole got home and was screaming, 'The champ is here!'"
Nicole was glad to go to get the chance to challenge herself and also compete without the pressure of being expected to win.
"I was almost begging for him to let me go," Nicole said. "He didn't know how he would feel about it because it would be my first time traveling that far without them. He was stuck on that. My coach was trying to tell him that I was actually faster than what they might've thought I was, and that I was faster than what I thought I was. So it would be a great experience for me to go out there and do it, even if I didn't win. Being there, it opened my eyes up to a lot more opportunities. I was able to meet people from everywhere that were just as fast as me or better. Luckily for me, I ended up winning the meet. But I'm really happy that he let me go because honestly, that also gave me more confidence in myself that I can do whatever I put my mind on."
NEW BALANCE NATIONALS
A few weeks ago, the Wells sisters went to Boston for the New Balance Indoor Nationals. It was Simone's first time going and Nicole's second after winning the 200m event there last year. Simone was able to place fifth in the middle school division long jump.
It was a moment that both take tremendous pride in.
"This was one of my favorite moments," Nicole said. "It made me very happy to see her on the podium."
BEING ALL IN
Both sisters have a desire to be great in whatever they desire to do, whether that be on the track, in the classroom or in the community.
Simone is currently a member of the National Junior Honor Society and the president of Alice Drive's FBLA Club. Nicole is a member of the Delta Cotillion and has hopes of being a sports physical therapist one day.
"I believe that I can be great at whatever I do," Nicole said.
Simone added, "I feel that I can be great at whatever I do because I've watched Nicole be great."
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