Ariah Graham knows she is going to cry Saturday.
The Wakefield High senior, a multiple national high school track and field champion, said she expects an emotional ending at the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A championships in Greensboro. Shell run with her teammates again in national competition, but never again will she race for the Wolverines.
She has a decorative box in her room where she keeps most of the ribbons and medals that she has won. She has no idea how many there are. A few of the prettiest or the most meaningful are hung round her room. Each one is precious and is prized, but after so many wins in so many different competitions, keeping track of what she won indoors or outdoors, in club or in high school, in state or national meets is hard.
For the record, Graham has won nine NCHSAA titles, either individually or as a part of a Wakefield relay team. She expects to add more at the Irwin Belk Track at North Carolina A&T.
It is sad, she said this week. When I look up after my leg on the 4x400 relay and realize that it is all over, Im going to cry.
She tells people that she was born running. Trevor Graham, her father, was one of the nations top track coaches and her mother, Ann, was a college track athlete and is the Wakefield track coach. Older brother T.J. Graham, a former N.C. State football wide receiver, was an NCHSAA 100 and 200 meters sprint champion and recently signed with the NFLs Buffalo Bills. Only older sister Lucy didnt pursue track.
Ariah Graham is the reigning high school national champion in the 400 meters indoors (53.95 seconds) and she ran a leg on the Wakefield girls national championship 4x200 (1:36.35) and 4x400 relays (3:43.01). The winning times are the fastest ever by North Carolina high school athletes and the 4x200 finish is the second fastest ever in the United States.
Weve got a lot of good girls, Graham said. We work hard.
The 400 meters, Grahams speciality, is one of the most demanding races. The race is painful, something Graham handles by confronting the discomfort. Before the race, you know you are going to hurt, she said. You have to decide that you arent going to slow down.
Ariah has wanted to run for as long as she can remember. Her parents wouldnt let her compete until she was 10 years old and she was a sprinter until her mother entered her in the 400 meters when she was 12.
I cried the whole way, she said. It was at A&T and my mother made me run it.
She has never trained with T.J., but the brother and sister, five years apart, have grown closer in recent years. They have been linked by their success and by their father, who was one of the nations top coaches before several of his athletes were connected to performance-enhancing drugs.
Like T.J., Ariah is headed to N.C. State. She looked closely at South Carolina and the University of North Carolina, loved those track programs and those schools, but knew in her heart that she was a Wolfpacker.
But she is also a Wolverine.. Shell wear the Wakefield uniform for the last time on Saturday. Wakefield is the girls team favorite, having won the NCHSAA 2011 winter track, 2011 outdoor track and the 2012 indoor track championships. In addition, the same girls won the New Balance Outdoors national championship in 2011 while competing as the Junior Striders.
She is expected to win a few more medals to put in her box and more importantly to her, shell get to run with her friends and her school, one more day.