Even runners with multiple state championships can find it difficult to stand out from the bevy of talent that track and field juggernaut Eleanor Roosevelt High School has produced in the past 20 years.
But Glenn Dale resident and 2010 Roosevelt grad Afia Charles finds her self on distinguished ground — London ground, to be exact. Charles, a rising junior at the University of Central Florida, will be running in the 400 meters on Friday in the 2012 Olympics. She’ll be representing Antigua and Barbuda, where Charles’ family is from, which invited her to compete.
“Actually everything was a shock to me,” Charles said by phone from Florida last week before traveling to London. “I thought my season was over June 10th. I went home because I didn’t have a qualifying standard [to reach the NCAA Championships].”
Charles said she rested during the next three weeks before getting news from her mother that she could compete at the Olympics if she desired. She had competed previously over the past several years for Antigua and Barbuda at the World Junior Games.
As she runs on the world’s biggest stage, Charles will be following in her mother’s footsteps. Ruperta Charles competed for Antigua at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics in the 100 and 200 meters and the 1,600 relay.
“It’s a little bit of nostalgia for me,” said a giddy Ruperta Charles. “I was in her position over 20 years ago. I know how big of a chance that it is. I didn’t want her to miss that opportunity. I told her I thought about it and she should do it.”
At Roosevelt, Charles won multiple state championships and was named to multiple All-Gazette first teams for indoor and outdoor track. But she didn’t start running competitively until the end of her freshman year in high school after first giving basketball a try.
In fact, she has limited familiarity with the Olympics.
“The first time I ever really watched the Olympics was in 2008 [during the Beijing Games],” Charles said. “I never watched it before then. I would ask myself, ‘What if I was there?’ My mom said once you’re in college, you have a chance to make the Olympics. It was a shock, but deep down I knew there was a possibility.”
Ruperta Charles has vivid memories of her experience in 1984 in Los Angeles.
“It was a bit overwhelming because of the stage that you’re participating in,” Ruperta Charles said. “Media from all over the world was there and the amount of folks you compete with is a lot. It was like the biggest stage of athletics. It was just really a humbling experience. I had competed in the 1983 [IAAF] World Championships in Helsinki [Finland] and it wasn’t as big.”
Charles shares the Olympic distinction with fellow Roosevelt graduate Tiandra Ponteen, who competed in the 2004 Olympics for Saint Kitts and Nevis.
“It’s not surprising she made it, it’s a warm feeling,” said family friend and Lanham resident Shirlyn Corlette. “The rewarding part of is that Afia is so humble. I find it a blessing to be part of this family. I’m really happy. She’s so humble, I can talk to her every time and she refers to me as her aunt.”
Leading up to the Olympics, Charles trained with Dee Dee Trotter, who was a part of the 2004 United States gold-medal-winning 1,600 relay team.
“It makes me proud to come from a program like Roosevelt [High],” said Charles, a health sciences major at UCF. “I remember in high school, it was after we had run at Penn Relays, [former Roosevelt coach] Desmond Dunham said I had the possibility of being great and making the Olympics. I remember that conversation so much. I’m just looking to run my best race. I’m going to be walking on the track with full confidence in myself, my training, coaches and God. I have nothing to lose.”