June 19, 2009
By Larry Watts
Bettie Wade has one goal in mind for the month of June. By the time she leaves Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. June 28, the University of Michigan senior hopes to have a pro track contract in hand.
"That is my ultimate dream," says the Northville, Mich. native. "The outdoor season hasn't gone as planned and I don't think I have reached my goals to secure myself a contract. But things started to fall into place at the Big Ten Championships and I'm on the uphill part now.
"I'm God-fearing and I know God has a plan for me and He is going to work everything out, so I'm not worried. We'll see where this all takes me. I just know I want to travel the world and do what I love."
The next step for one of the nation's premier heptathletes is the USTF Championships, which are currently taking place. Now a six-time All-American, Wade earned All-America honors again in the heptathlon at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
While the awards on the track have been aplenty, Wade might be most proud of the fact she was elected as a team co-captain as a sophomore, making her the youngest co-captain in Wolverine track history. She is now completing her third season as a co-captain.
"Among the awards I get, the ones that show your character are the ones I am most proud of," she says. "To be a three-time co-captain shows what my teammates think of me and how I uphold myself. I just hoped I would still be captain when the recruits came in this year because that would have been embarrassing to be voted out as a senior."
One of the most trying times for Wade and her teammates came during her first year as co-captain, when classmate Joi Smith, who was also a multi-event specialist, lost a nine-month battle with cancer.
"It was so hard because Joi was such a great person and a great spirit," Wade says. "To have a teammate die is so surreal. She worked so hard and we had so much fun together.
"But her death brought our team so much closer together and helped us realize the great opportunity we had and not to taking anything for granted. When you're training, train your hardest because it easily can be taken away from you."
Training hard never has been a problem for the 5-foot-7 Wade, who estimates she spends an average of 4 hours per day working out. "Some days it might be six and other days it could be three," she says. "I try to keep it at two events per day so I get quality training in those events."
Mainly a high jumper and 400 runner in high school, the thought of becoming a multi-event specialist was first thrown at Wade by her high school coach, Charles Bridges.
"I wasn't that fast in the 400 and my high jump (now a personal best of 6-0) was respectable, but not phenomenal, so he was really gung ho about training me in other events because he thought that would be best for my future," she says. "I had been coming to the University of Michigan sports camp since I was a sophomore and coach (James) Henry handed me a packet and told me to call him if I wanted to be recruited."
The only trouble was Wade saw herself competing for the University of North Carolina. She even had a recruiting visit set up the weekend after she officially visited Michigan.
"If you had talked to me during my junior year, there was no way I was going to be staying instate," she says. "I had seen North Carolina so much on TV and the weather never hurts. I knew a high jumper who was going there and it was the home of Marion Jones and Michael Jordan, so being a Tar Heel was really something. But being a Wolverine is not half bad at all."
Wade never made it to Chapel Hill. The 25-minute trip to Ann Arbor was enough to sway her opinion toward the Maize and Blue.
"Michigan really puts on a show for its recruits," she says. "They took me to the football game (a 45-37 overtime victory over rival Michigan State) and everything just felt right. The campus, the coaches and the girls -- it was all great. I could tell the girls were like one big family and they weren't putting on a show. I knew I would have great friends here and it was only 25 minutes from home.
"But coach Henry put pressure on me to give him a decision by Monday, so I went home and weighed all the pros and cons. There were hardly any cons, so I called coach Henry and cancelled my trip to Chapel Hill."
But Wade hasn't seen many Michigan football games since her arrival. Her twin brother Marcellus plays football at nearby Hillsdale College, so most of her Saturday afternoons are spent with her family watching her brother.
"My brother and I have always been close and we talk to each other all the time," she says. "It was a tough decision to split ways, but I wanted more of a big school and he wanted more of a small school. We have an older sister, Patrice, and we have all been with each other through a lot of hard times and a lot of good times."
Fortunately, coach Henry was on the same page as Wade and her high school coach. He immediately began training her for multi-event competition. She was a Big Ten second-team selection in both the pentathlon and heptathlon as a freshman.
"It takes a lot of maturity, grooming and critiquing of events to succeed early, but I owe my success to God and the fact I'm an extremely hard worker," she says. "I have a very high work ethic because I don't like not being good at stuff.
"I was willing to put in the extra hours and not get frustrated if things weren't working out. I just tried to perfect every single thing the coaches threw at me."
Wade claims the high jump, long jump and shot put are her strongest events in the heptathlon while the 800 and javelin need the most work. "But the javelin is improving a lot," she says. "I have improved my PR (personal record) by over 10 feet this year. All of my weak events are slowly being refined and getting better."
Wade is no stranger to Hayward Field, where she will be competing at the end of the month in the USATF Championships. The home of four Olympic Trials, she finished ninth at the Olympic Trials last summer.
"It was the greatest experience," she says. "Just to see the caliber of athletes and their skill levels made me decide this is where I wanted to be some day. I hung with them on the first day and then fell off (on the second), but it gave me a lot of confidence and fueled my fire and passion."
A berth on Team USA will put Wade in the IAAF World Championships in August, which will be held in Berlin, Germany. It will be the first international track and field competition conducted in the Olympic stadium since the 1936 Olympics.
Even if she doesn't receive that pro contract, Wade doesn't plan on using her degree in financial mathematics anytime soon. Her thoughts are to pick up a job as a personal trainer and continue to compete for at least another year.
"I eventually see myself as a college coach, but I'm going to get as much out of competing as I can," she says. "I have the faith I am eventually going to get that contract."