Southside’s Wood returns from Australia with a medal and great memories

Published 7:59 pm Thursday, July 26, 2018

While many high school kids were spending their summer working, going to the same beach they always go to or possibly just lounging around the house, Jacqueline Wood was halfway around the world making friends, experiencing new things and, of course, winning a medal.

The Southside sprinter boarded a plane for the first time ever on July 8 to make the long journey to Queensland, Australia, in order to compete in the 18th annual Down Under International Games. While there, Wood formed friendships with teammates from all over the United States, petted kangaroos and held koalas and represented eastern North Carolina and her country on the track, winning a third-place medal in the 4×100-meter relay, while also placing fourth in the 100-meter dash and the 200-meter dash.

For Wood, the best part of the trip was the time spent bonding with her new teammates, with kids from as far as the state of Washington and New Jersey.

“The kids were really sweet,” she said. “Making memories on the bus, on the track and just goofing around. But when we had to get serious, we got serious. We made sure that, ‘hey, we’re U.S.A. We’re here to compete and we’re going to win.’”

But Wood’s plan of American domination was almost thwarted by an injury. After feeling pain in her left foot all week, including during her first two events, the rising senior discovered she had a stress fracture right before she ran the 200.

The trainers wanted to put a boot on Wood, but she insisted they just taped it up.

“I didn’t tell anybody back home because I didn’t want them to worry, I didn’t want them freaking out,” Wood said. “I was like, ‘all right, well I came here for a reason and I’m going to fight it out I guess.’”

That mental toughness Wood displayed to compete through the pain was something that impressed her coach at the event, James Hanlon, who also coaches track and field at CrossPointe Christian Academy in Williamson, Georgia.

“We realized with her and with a handful of other kids that were sort of running injured, there’s the grit they had to push through the pain,” Hanlon said. “That was something as a coach, you see that with the kids and you understand that these are the ones that really want to be there doing what they’re doing. So, they just deal with the pain and move on.”

It wasn’t just Wood’s grit and determination to compete that caught Hanlon’s eye. Hanlon said not all the kids at the event had the same focus and desire to do well and it was evident who was and who wasn’t paying attention during practice.

Competing at the international level also brings along adjustments for the competitors. For example, relay runners, like Wood, have to fine-tune their exchanges of the baton with new teammates who were strangers to them a day before, something Hanlon said Wood adjusted to more quickly than many of the other competitors.

“Determination, the focus and the adjustments that are made at an international meet, compared to a regular meet that we go to during the year. Not everyone can do that, not everyone can make that adjustment,” Hanlon said. “But she was definitely one of them that did and improved, especially through the relay team, which she was very successful, her team was very successful.”

The trip down under wasn’t just about competing and winning medals. It also gave its participants the chance to experience things they wouldn’t be able to otherwise. One of those experiences was going to a wildlife sanctuary to get up close and personal with animals unique to the land of Oz.

“It was really cool. The kangaroos, they’re pretty chill. They really don’t care that the people were inside; I guess they see it everyday. They’re almost like dogs, kangaroos are,” Wood said. “Then the koala bears, they’re pretty chill. It’s almost like holding a baby. And they stink. Don’t think they smell like Rainforest Febreze because they don’t.”

Despite her first experiences on a plane were extremely long flights from Raleigh to Los Angeles and then to Australia, Wood is not turned off from travelling. Wood’s time in Australia leaves her wanting to visit other parts of the world as well, with slightly different company.

“I would love to go with a group of friends (on a trip.)