From Walk-On To National Champion: Tyra Abraham On Her Running Career That Almost Wasn’t


A female track athletes gets her picture taken on a track
Tyra Abraham SC ‘18, a CMS Track and Field sprinter, has transformed from a walk-on to National Champion. (Audrey Simmons • The Student Life)

Armed with a Coca Cola and an infectious smile, Tyra Abraham SC ’18 exuded a controlled energy last Saturday afternoon at Claremont McKenna College’s Hub Grill.

Abraham is approaching graduation and the end of her storied Claremont-Mudd-Scripps track career, which saw a meteoric rise from walk-on runner to NCAA national champion in just two years.

“I didn’t officially start running for a track team until seventh grade when I transferred to a private school and they actually had a team I could join,” Abraham said. “But I guess before that I always knew I was a pretty fast kid, and in elementary school, I was always the fastest kid on the playground.”

She went on to run in high school, but did not find her signature event until joining the collegiate program. Abraham wasn’t even sure she would run in college until after accepting Scripps College’s admissions offer.

“In high school, I was a more average runner,” she said. “I didn’t really consider trying to be recruited by anyone. I just really didn’t think I would want to run after high school. But in April of my senior year, when I realized I was running out of time, I kind of felt sad and I had this longing to run more, and I especially felt like I had a lot of untapped potential at the time.”

Her intuition was right.

Abraham emailed then-CMS head coach Kendra Reimer, shared her best times, and asked about joining the team upon her arrival in August 2014. Reimer, who left the program before Abraham joined, answered with a resounding “oh yeah, sure.”

But Abraham’s unheralded arrival quickly brought CMS into the national spotlight. Mainly a 400-meter runner before college, she transitioned to shorter sprints out of the team’s necessity.

“I never ran the 100 before coming to college,” she said. “In middle school I was more of a mid-distance runner and then in high school I focused on the 400-meter in particular.”

Even in the months immediately preceding her 100-meter national title in 2016, Abraham was still “getting the hang of” the 100.

“I guess it didn’t really hit me until April when I realized I was still one of the top-ranked 100-meter sprinters in the country by that time,” she said. That was “when I realized I actually had a chance at winning this.”

Spring coach Bob Ramsey recalled the stress before the 100-meter final at the NCAA meet.

“It was pretty nerve-wracking,” Ramsey said “When she won, I was really happy for her, [and I also] felt a deep sense of relief.”

Since then, Abraham has continued to improve. Coming off a fourth-place finish at the 2017 NCAA Championship, she has already run a lifetime best of 11.65 in 2018 — a full tenth of a second faster than her 2017 national time, and only two hundredths off what the winner ran. In 2016, it only took a 12.10 to win it all.

“It was really nice to know that all the training and hard work I’ve been putting in has been paying off,” Abraham said. “It was also really cool because I was running against girls from Oregon and Arizona and Washington, so it was really cool to run against them and just keep up with them.”

Abraham is more than an athlete — in her life off the track, the New York native majors in anthropology and media studies.

She has a passion for photography and visual storytelling, and prefers the “more candid, even documentary, photojournalism kind of style.” Abraham also serves as a photographer for Scripps’ marketing and communications office.

She’s had a number of nonprofit internships; last summer, Abraham worked on branding and communications at, and before that, she worked at StoryCorps, which records and publicizes the stories of Americans from a variety of backgrounds.

In comparison to distance runners or jumpers, sprinters tend to be known for loud, boisterous personalities, but Ramsey said Abraham doesn’t fit the mold.

“Tyra doesn’t have the ‘big’ personality typical of most sprinters,” he said. ‘“Tyra’s energy is focused on developing the skill and craft of her sport, and her focus brings her teammates along with her.”

Abraham doesn’t attribute her sprinting success to any sort of pre-race ritual. For her, it’s all about the harnessing the right type of energy.

“I feel like if I start doing a routine, I’ll have to do it, and if I don’t, it’ll mess up my entire race,” she said. “Although, the past two meets I’ve been drinking coffee before, and I feel like that’s really helped me a lot in terms of energy. So I might just keep doing that.”

That energy will be key heading into the SCIAC championship meet this weekend. Beyond SCIACs, Abraham is eyeing more national titles, both individually and as part of the Athenas’ 4×100-meter relay, which recently broke both the CMS and conference records.

“I’m hoping to win the 100-meter sprint and hopefully do well in the 200 — finish all-American,” she said. “Hopefully our relay can do really well and win at nationals too. We definitely feed off each other’s energy.”

As Abraham enters the final month of her collegiate career — a career that almost wasn’t — she advises other unsure high school runners: “Give it a shot. Stick with it, and trust the process.”

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