Tyshia Oliver slowly took off her pink-and-white shoes Saturday after running the 800 meters in the girls Class 1A portion of the state championship track meet, making a couple of reporters wait. The Reginald F. Lewis senior wanted to stretch out a bit to avoid cramping because she had another event to run, but Oliver also wanted a moment to savor what was to be a pretty good day in her last high school competition.
"An A-plus," Oliver said with a laugh when asked how she would grade her day at Morgan State's Hughes Stadium. "I PR-ed [set a personal record] in the 400, and I PR-ed in the 800, a 2:21.81. I think I did really well. I think she [Lewis coach Rikki Sye] should be proud of me."
Oliver not only placed second in the 800, finishing less than two seconds behind Fort Hill junior Amanda Twigg, but she also broke a 14-year-old mark for 1A runners in winning the 400 in a dazzling 55.63 seconds, more than a second ahead of Western Tech's Lauren Campbell.
Oliver's story, on and off the track, is certainly one worth celebrating, particularly with the end of the high school chapter on the way.
Oliver was raised by an aunt who eventually had to give her up to a foster home. She started her high school track career at Woodlawn, helping the Warriors finish second in the Baltimore County indoor championships as a freshman.
But when a second foster home closed, Oliver moved in with an older brother and his wife and had to transfer to Lewis.
Oliver's parents have never played an active role in her life, but she displays no bitterness or anger about her circumstances.
"It's pretty hard, but when you want to get somewhere in life and be better than your family members, you have to work hard and stay focused and stay close to people who care about you," Oliver said.
In Oliver's mind, all the disappointments and setbacks have done is forge her determination to get somewhere - and fast - through a life on the track.
'Track is my passion," said Oliver, who is weighing scholarship offers from Morgan State and Florida A&M.; "When I go to track meets and track practice, I try to stay focused and forget about everything that had been going on. It's hard because it might affect my running, but I'm trying to get better on that, on staying focused."
Oliver has had significant help staying focused from Sye, her coach and mentor. For instance, Sye reminded her to enjoy her senior prom last Friday night but to stay off her feet as much as possible and to get home as early as she could.
Oliver also placed fourth in the long jump Saturday, narrowly missing third. She also helped Lewis place seventh in the 1,600 relay and 10th overall in the 1A meet.
Three months earlier, Oliver won the 500 and 800 meters at the 1A state indoor championships in February, lowering the state record in the 500 by nearly two seconds and earning a place on the All-Metro first-team in indoor track.
"She did what she was supposed to do," Sye said. "I told her that was our goal [Saturday] - to set a 1A record. Our goal at the indoor was to get a record for the , and she did. She's done really well. I'm proud of her. She had a rocky start this season, but I'm proud of her."
Oliver's face was the one people saw on public transportation last year as the face of someone who had succeeded despite having lived in a foster home. It's a message that has resonated throughout the city, as well as through the halls at Lewis, which has a number of students from foster homes.
"She's a really good kid with a positive attitude. That's good to see," Sye said. "A lot of negative is brought up in the media, but she's never had any type of conflict in school. She's never had a problem with a teacher. She always stays positive, does her work. If she has a problem, she'll go about [resolving] it the right way. A lot of kids are like that growing up today, but they just don't see that it can be done."
That is, until they see Oliver taking off her pink-and-white shoes after another win.