Now, Zharia has a chance to run at the USATF championships in Houston, Texas, and it’s all part of her plan to run in the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“People from all over the world are there,” Zharia said about the chance to test herself against the best athletes. “So you pretty much get to see how fast you can be against people from New York or Maine or Alabama.”
Zharia has been running since she was 5 years old and joined the Police Activities League track team in Oakland, where she and her parents lived until 2011. During her first meet, seven years ago, “She ran backwards on the track,” her mother, Monique Dixon, said.
Zharia continued to run in Oakland until this season, when she and her parents decided to join a team closer to home.
Blazin Jaguars head coach Debonaire Shelton recalled watching Zharia run for the P.A.L.
“Zharia has been an athlete that is very strong,” Shelton said. “So when she joined the team, I was very excited to have Zharia.”
Assistant coach Stefan Wilson also had good things to say about the 12-year-old.
“She’s really eager to learn anything that you’re willing to teach her,” Wilson said. “She’s a lot different than kids her age. There’s no arguing when it comes to teaching her. Whatever suggestions you have to making her faster, she’s eager to take in.”
Zharia said there is only one thing on her mind during a race:
“You just see who’s in front of you on the track. You can hear everyone screaming, but you don’t really focus on it. So you are practically in your own world when you are running, and all you focus on is winning.”
According to Wilson, the Mountain House girl didn’t start smoothly out of the blocks at the beginning of the season.
“She came out of nowhere this year and she achieved a lot. So there was a lot of kids that didn’t want to see her
succeed, so they would verbally attack her at the starting line when she was going to start,” the coach said. “Her strongest attribute was being able to get past that.”
Zharia said that when her opponents talk about her, “It proves that they’re intimidated.”
Zharia’s mother is happy her daughter has learned how to be independent.
“It’s all or nothing, and it relies on you. You have nothing to fall back on,” she said.
Zharia’s father, Leonard Dixon, credits the coaching staff of the Blazin Jaguars with building upon his daughter’s natural athleticism.
“They push her to the point she is getting something out of practice, she’s learning something and she’s able to develop,” he said, calling this season pivotal for Zharia. “You can see the results. Last year she was great, but she wasn’t like this, to this level.”
Both Shelton and Wilson said that repeating the fundamentals of running is crucial in every race.
“There’s just so much to running that people don’t understand,” Wilson said. “They think you just go, run as fast as you can, and that’s it.”
Zharia said she admires Olympic gold and silver medalist Allyson Felix.
“Because she’s dedicated and she’s passionate about everything she does,” Zharia said.
Now the 12-year-old fosters her own Olympic dream. She wants to run in the 2020 games in Tokyo. It’s a goal her head coach thinks is within her reach.
“Our whole team this year has wonderful athletes that are on a national level,” Shelton said. “It’s all totally on her. She has everything that God has given her to allow her to be in that position. It’s up to her how much she wants it.”
The USATF National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships run from July 21 to 27 in Houston. Zharia’s parents said that although she has qualified, they hope to find some community support to help pay the thousands of dollars to attend the meet.
The Dixons’ friends and family have started an online fundraiser to defray some of the costs. People can donate at www.gofundme.com/zharia.
• Contact Michael Ellis Langley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 830-4231.