At the bang of the starter pistol, the girls push off from their blocks and run as fast as their little legs will take them.
As the crowd chants the runners’ names, an 8-year-old in a neon green headband and fuchsia sneakers quickly establishes herself as the leader. Soon, she’s many lengths ahead of her competition, handily winning the indoor USA Track & Field national championship race for 7- and 8-year-olds girls last March in New York.
Not only does she finish the 200-meter event with an indoor season record time of 30.79; she wins the 400 meter and long jump competitions as well. Who is this running phenom? Alaiyah Choice, a driven young runner from Chester who turned 9 this month. Last year, Choice took home 12 national titles from USA Track & Field, the Amateur Athletics Union and the Junior Olympics.
Earlier this month, Choice was honored as USATF’s Virginian female athlete of the year for 2019 in the 8 and under category. Colleges are beginning to show interest, and her mother is already talking about the 2028 Summer Olympics. Simply put, Choice is one of the fastest 9-year-olds to lace up running shoes.
Is all this hype overblown? Ask the Curtis Elementary third grader and she’ll tell you that she’s just getting started.
Sitting in the empty cafeteria of Salem Church Middle School ahead of a track practice, Christina Choice says athleticism is in her daughter’s blood.
A native of Maryland, Christina, 34, played basketball for two years at Baltimore City Community College before transferring to Virginia State University on a full athletic scholarship in 2005. There, she averaged a double-double as point guard on the basketball team, and met Alaiyah’s father, Jerome Choice, a wide receiver on VSU’s football team; the two have since divorced.
After graduating, Christina would return to VSU’s campus to work out. It was there, while copying her mother’s exercise routine, that Alaiyah first began to show an interest in running.
“I started training her when she was 5 at Virginia State: running up the hills, running the track with sleds, pushups, sit ups, flipping tires,” says Christina, a network engineer for Altria. Christina was surprised her daughter was keeping up with the workout regimen, including running three to four laps without stopping. That’s when Christina realized how gifted Alaiyah was.
“I know athletic talent whenever I see it,” Christina says. “It wasn’t forced. It’s something that she loved from [the start].”
In 2017, Alaiyah joined Legion of Zoom Track Club, a local nonprofit for child runners that practices weeknights at Salem Church Middle, Meadowbrook High and Elizabeth Davis Middle.
“From day one, she’s been winning national titles,” Christina says. “She hasn’t really lost yet. She’s been an All-American for quite some time.”
In addition to her club practices, Alaiyah trains three to four days a week, including with two trainers. As for what drives her, the shy 9-year-old says she enjoys “how fast I go in competing against people.” These days, she says she’s focusing on “helping my form and driving my knees up and [making] sure I stay down for the first 100” meters of a race.
“She’s a hard worker,” Christina says. “I call her a young professional, because she knows when to turn it on and she knows when to turn it off. We go to track meets, she’s not playing, she’s not running around. She’s focused on her event.”
Alaiyah says math and writing are her favorite subjects at school, and that she enjoys listening to the rappers DaBaby and Cardi B. Like many kids her age, she also enjoys playing with “slime,” a brightly colored, Silly Putty-like toy that’s fun to stretch. When Alaiyah competes, her mom often buys her a package of the polymer goo to entertain her.
“She’s addicted,” Christina says. “She runs for slime.”
Though her daughter is already showing promise, Christina says Alaiyah remains “very smart and humble. She has no idea how she’s breaking ground already.”
Competitions have seen Alaiyah, Christina, and Alaiyah’s 11-year-old sister Jada, who plays basketball, travel to New York, North Carolina, Maryland and Orlando. Last year, she won national championships from both the USATF and AAU in the 400 meter, 200 meter and long jump competitions. The USATF named Alaiyah Virginia’s female athlete of the year in the 8 and under category.
“She’s different,” says Bernard Comer, Legion of Zoom’s head coach. “She wanted to be the best, and, with her mother beside her, she trains every day. She trains more than anybody here.”
Comer, a former sprinter and running back at VSU, founded Legion of Zoom in 2015 after his oldest daughter expressed interest in the sport. Currently, the club has roughly 100 members (ages 4 to 18) between its indoor and outdoor seasons.
“Just as long as they can focus long enough, we’ll take ’em,” Comer says. “Give ’em something different other than football or basketball,” he says.
To attract young athletes, Comer often explains to them that running track will increase their endurance in virtually any other sport.
“Track prepares you for any sport that you play,” he says. “Most sports in general, you have to be able to run and move.”
So far this season, Christina says her daughter is on course to perform as well as she did last year, winning events in New York, Maryland and Lynchburg. Last weekend, Alaiyah won two gold medals at the BWSP Kings & Queens Atlantic Coast Invitational in Hampton, running a 29.76 in the 200 and a 1:09:84 in the 400.
As for her daughter’s future, Christina says the sky’s the limit. So far, three colleges have reached out in the hopes of recruiting her one day, and the Choices want her to compete in the 2028 Summer Olympics, when Alaiyah will be 17.
“I want her to go pro,” Christina says. “I think she’ll be way ahead. At this point, if she were [allowed] to compete, she’d be able to compete at a high school level.” ¦
She is an amazing little girl and I could not be more proud of her and her accomplishments. Love you Ms. Seal