WHS sprinter chases Olympic dream to Wayland Baptist University

The sport of track and field has been in the blood of Waxahachie High School senior Tyra Lacey since she was a seventh-grader at Finley High School.

Following in the footsteps of her idol Allyson Felix intertwined her dream with the talented DNA of two athletic parents and injected the Olympic goal into her bloodstream.

Tyra Lacey signed a National Letter of Intent to run track at Wayland Baptist University on Thursday at Lumpkins Stadium in front of WISD school officials, coaches, family friends and her mother and father, Chandria and Tyrus Lacey.

“I’m very proud of her. It’s her dream to run collegiate track and I can’t begin to talk about the hard work, dedication and sacrifice she’s put into making her dream become reality,” Chandria said. “I’m happy to see her get an opportunity like this. By getting to run track in college, she’s already better than I ever was.”

Chandria and Tyrus, Waxahachie natives, ran junior high and high school track and played Warriors and Indians football, respectively.

Though Chandria’s sprinting career ended the day she graduated from WHS, Tyrus attended the University of Houston during the years of the old Southwest Conference, a year before UH joined the Conference USA.

“She threw out a couple of different schools, but she never mentioned Houston,” Tyrus said about his daughter possibly attending his alma matter. “It really wasn’t about track, it was about what she wanted to be outside of the sport. Any college she considered was based solely on that, regardless of her desire to be successful in the sport of track. She figured wherever she went, she would run track. I was impressed with her choice because most student-athletes look at the sport first and then what they want to do with their lives later.”

The link between Felix and Tyra was ever present, with Tyrus’ best friend and former Indian and NFL Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters relaying advice for the WHS speedster from the Olympic gold medalist.

It was the combination of WBU’s accommodation of her prospective majors, physical therapy, nursing or pre-medicine and the desire to become Team USA track and field’s next superstar, that helped her choose traveling to Plainview, Texas — without stepping foot on campus — versus other better-known institutions.

“She’s my role model. I’ve loved the way she runs — her form, stride, knowledge of the sport and drive for success — since I started watching the Olympics in sixth grade,” Tyra said softly, fidgeting in her seat as if the weight of her decision just came crashing down on top of her. “Watching her made me love the sport of track. I knew Wayland was the choice for me and the perfect place for me to not have to settle for only one of my dreams. There I can have both.”

Felix, a Los Angeles Baptist High School graduate nicknamed “chicken legs” in high school because of her slight 5-foot, 6-inch and 125-pound frame, won the 200-meter sprint World Champion and an Olympic gold medal in the 4x400-meter relay with Tyra stared at her through the screen of her television set in 2009.

The elder sprinter’s drive cultivated not only the will to be one of the best girls sprinters WHS has ever seen, it cemented the importance of education as both a path to Tyra’s future and her ticket to the world’s stage.

According to both U.S. News and College Xpress, a website dedicated to ranking universities in terms of affordability, population size and scholarship availability, WBU places as having one of the best educational values in the state.

The university had tuition rates of $16,980 for its 3,821 undergraduate students last year, a 1:10 teacher-to-student ratio and offered 24 annual scholarships ranging from $500 to $10,000.

There may be monumental value in Tyra’s choice, but her road is no less difficult than at any other institution of higher learning, Tyrus said.

“There’s no UIL in college, the NCAA has a completely different set of rules. That means more practice, time and commitment on top of your studies,” Tyrus said. “You have to be a lot more focused and talented. She’ll be fine if she takes small steps and keeps her eyes on the prize.”

Her journey won’t be made alone, however. She will begin her journey with two of the best “bodyguards” friendship can buy — 6-foot, 2-inch and 285-pound Indians senior offensive tackle Zeke Derrough and 6-foot and 265-pound senior defensive lineman Preston Moultry.

“It’s going to take a lot of hard work to get where I want to go, but it’s going to be a fun ride,” Tyra said. “I’d love to go to the Olympics and meet Allyson face to face and learn all she knows about our sport and the 200-meter dash. Who knows? With enough effort maybe I can be to Waxahachie what Allyson is to LA — an Olympic champion.”