“I just didn’t run well at all,” Sumner said. “I didn’t feel all that well physically, and mentally I don’t think I was really checked in either. But that taught me a great lesson. It made me change my mindset and my mentality.”
The result was a more focused athlete, one who sought to make the most of every moment he stepped on the track. Sumner attacked this indoor season vigorously.
“It really left a bad taste in my mouth,” Sumner said of his performance in Oregon last summer. “I couldn’t wait to get back on the track.”
After running well in the 500 meters in his first two indoor races of this season, Sumner felt it was time to go after the national high school record in his third. This time Sumner mastered the moment and took down the record at a meet in Virginia Beach in a time of 1:01.25, almost a half-second faster than the previous record, set in 2012 by Strymar Livingston of New York.
“I was so stressed because it looked like he got boxed in and the 500 is over so quickly,” said his mother, Tosha Sumner, an assistant track coach at Woodstock and former NCAA all-American 800 meter runner at Villanova. “I know what he is capable of, and as a parent you want so much to see your children succeed. When they do, it’s just, it’s just so great.”
Then last weekend in Chicago, Sumner not only broke the national record in the 600 meters, he obliterated it by two seconds crossing the line in 1:15.58, eclipsing the old record of 1:17.58, also set by Livingston in 2012.
Sumner had been eyeing that record for a long time because of its significance to his family: his father, Brad Sumner, set the record in the event in 1989 as a senior in high school in upstate New York. Brad was there to tape the feat, like Will’s grandfather had done for him 33 years ago.
“It was definitely an emotional moment,” said Brad, who like his wife, Tosha, was an all-American in the 800 meters at Villanova. Brad and Tosha are members of the “village” of coaches who have played a significant role in Will’s success thus far. The village also includes Will’s sister, Brinn, a former state champion in the 800 meters who runs at Clemson now after recently transferring from Villanova, and Dominic Demeritte, a coach at Life University who Brad and Tosha have known for years.
Demeritte and Tosha appear to handle the physical part of Will’s training – Demeritte helped improved Will’s speed while Tosha’s various pace workouts and hills have developed his strength. Brad and Brinn take care of Will’s mental and emotional health.
“Before he went out to break the 500 record, Brad looked at him and said, ‘No matter what happens, I love you,’” Tosha said. “And when he had that bad race in Oregon, Brad and Brinn said, ‘OK, you have a few minutes to feel sad and feel sorry for yourself, then it’s time to move on.’ Their philosophy is once something bad happens, you can’t continue to dwell on it. Onward and upward.”
Will and Brinn go on training runs together from time to time, just talking as siblings do. She is the only person on the planet who calls him William.
“It’s definitely great to have that kind of family support,” Will said. “My mom and dad have always been great. They never pushed me or my sister into track. They allowed us to do all kinds of sports.”
In fact, Will was heavy into cycling and Brinn was a gymnast before they both decided to take up the family business.
“We let them make their own choices,” Brad said. “It has to be up to them so that they are happy and having fun. That and the memories you take away from competing are more important than records.”
Still, Will has records on his mind. This spring he wants to take down the state record in the 800 meters (1:49.60), before heading to UGA in the fall. He chose the Bulldogs because he thinks the coaches there can help him improve even more, giving him a shot at a professional career and possibly representing Team USA in the Olympics someday.
“That would be amazing,” Will said. “I think America is one of the greatest countries in the world for track and field, and so to make an Olympic team and represent your country would be amazing.”