For Alabama track and field athlete Remona Burchell, 2014 was a record-breaking year. The junior sprinter took home a championship title during both the indoor and outdoor seasons, shattered records with her times in the 100-meter sprints and has racked up numerous “Alabama’s first” titles.
When asked about her success, the Montego Bay, Jamaica, native smiled and looked away before describing her year as “unexpected,” a mantra she has repeated since her top finish in the 100-meter at the June NCAA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Oregon.
Before she was winning championships, Burchell was competing in her home country’s sport days around age seven or eight. She said she remembers participating in various creative activities and ultimately developing a love for track, but since then, she said, she hasn’t looked back.
“We do different stuff [at sports day], we don’t just run the 100 and the 200,” Burchell said. “We have like a spoon with a lemon in it, and we walk with it. If it falls out, we have to pick it up and start over again. We have like oranges lined up, we had to pick up the furthest one and put it in our pan – I got involved in track and field when I was young and never stopped.”
Burchell’s love for the sport continued to grow as she eventually competed for Herbert Morrison High School, where she transferred to increase her focus on track.
“From there, I got to learn to love the sport more,” she said. “It has brought me to my junior college, and now here. I didn’t expect to be running this fast my junior year, but I am.”
Burchell shattered the University’s 100-meter record when she ran a wind-legal 11.03 at the NCAA East Preliminary, finishing with a time that ranked second in the world for 2014 at the time and the fastest by a collegian.
Her record-breaking time is very different from where the athlete said she expected to be this season. When she came to Alabama, Burchell said she expected to run “maybe 11.2,” in the 100-meter.
Her extraordinary first year at Alabama didn’t come without its struggles, however. A nagging injury kept her from competing in the 200-meter as she wanted. She said the most difficult part of her career was the adjustment to competing for and training with the Crimson Tide.
“My first practice here, I cried,” she said. “In the weight room, I cried because I wasn’t strong enough and I wasn’t doing what [Alabama sprints and hurdles] coach [Matt] Kane wanted me to do, and I was getting frustrated. But, it has made me grow a lot in terms of track and field. I’ve been running at my best now.”
Despite her success, the young athlete has largely flown under the radar on the national scene. Burchell was named on the watch list of The Bowerman Trophy – the top track and field honor in the country, like football’s Heisman – back in March. After her championship race, however, she was absent from the trophy’s finalists.
Burchell said she doesn’t let the lack of national attention get her down but takes it in stride and uses it as another motivational tool.
“Sometimes it feels like I deserve more, but, as I say, I cannot force them to put me on their list,” she said. “So next year, I will work for it. I will work harder for it.”
Kane said he agrees she may have been overlooked this season, but that is a trend which is sure to change in the future.
“I think that she wasn’t necessarily a high-profile recruit in high school then went the junior college route and wasn’t necessarily a high-profile recruit there, so people were underestimating her ability,” Kane said. “She’s shown it now that she’s definitely going to be the favorite. I hope nobody underestimates her next year.”
Although Burchell may consider her success unexpected and doesn’t readily boast of her accolades, Kane said her progress hasn’t gone unnoticed from her opponents, and she has been able to adjust to her role as a champion.
“One of the biggest changes she’s made is in her maturity level on the track,” Kane said. “She’s adjusted her awareness of how good she can be, and she’s adjusted from being the hunter to the hunted. She was able to handle that process and flourished when she knew she had a target on her back.”
Her hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed by her family, either. Burchell said her mother constantly expresses her support for her daughter’s track career.
“My mom, she’s always motivating me and telling me that she’s proud of me and that I’ve come a long way, and I just need to be focused and keep doing what I’m doing,” she said.
Even though Burchell admitted she has a hard time showing her excitement after a big win, she said her family enjoys her wins and always has one prominent question for her when she calls after meets.
“Whenever I’m at a track meet and I call them, the first thing they ask me is did I win, so I know they’re happy for me,” she said.
Drawing on the support from her family and coach and her success in only her first year at the Capstone, Burchell said her goals for next season are simple.
“The same,” she said with a smile. “The same.”