Despite having two gold medals before her sophomore year, Lilly Ray struggled to escape pre-race anxiety.
Three minutes before the starting gun of the 5A girls 200m state final in May, the wunderkind Weatherford High School sprinter shook, her breath shallowing. This feeling, however parasitic, had become as integral to her routine as stretching. Despite her unbelievable success, it invaded her, time and again.
“I’m usually shaking uncontrollably and wonder what all could go wrong if I don’t win, costing our team points or what happens if I disappoint people,” Ray says.
For whatever reason, buried her chin into her chest and began praying. Really praying. Praying like her mental wellness (and a third gold medal) was on the line.
“Every time I tell this story, I make sure to add how fearful and scared I was,” Ray says, “and how with one prayer, all of my worries were taken away.”
For the first time in her career, Ray felt peace – “a wash of relief” – as she prayed. She was shocked by her own composure as she lifted her head and made towards her starting blocks.
“I remember asking myself, ‘is there something wrong because I’m unusually calm?” Ray says. “I literally could not muster up a single worry or doubt.”
The announcer set the runners on their marks. On their sets. He raised his arm. BANG.
Ray leapt out of the blocks and burned past her contemporaries around the first-half curve. She gained ground as the race closed to its end and crossed the finish line nearly a second before her runner-up.
“I can honestly say that since this, my confidence on the track has gotten 10 times better.”
Her 24.56 run became her personal best and best in the state regardless of classification that year.
“After a bit, I knew what it was,” Ray says. “I feel like this is more than a ‘God’s real, and he is here because I’ve experienced it.’”
Ray continued to win her third and fourth gold medals, including her second in the 200m and first in the 100m. She claimed runner-up in the 100m her freshman year. A win in that race brought her a sense of redemption.
“She (Ray) is an extremely talented and hard-working athlete who strives to be the best,” Weatherford track coach Kaleb Fischer says, “not just in our class, but the whole state.”
Emphasis on the “talented.” Rarely does an athlete claim two gold medals in each of her first two seasons, especially three total in individual races.
“I strongly feel that in everything I partake in, Christ should be followed,” Ray says. “I truly believe that God gave me this speed to do something in his name. Winning state for me was a gift from God.”
As Ray rounds the first curve of her high school career,she’s grateful for what she has accomplished but doesn’t plan to slow down.
“There’s always room for improvement, I feel like,” Ray says. “Any step up that I take from now to until I graduate is a step that helps me prepare to run against bigger competition in college.”
Already an Altus school record-holder in the 200m, Ray hopes to break the state record of 23.69 seconds. She was less than a second off in her state championship race last spring.
(and within a half-second of the 24.17 record in 4A). She also hopes to run at the Junior Olympic Games later this year. The regional qualifying meet will be in Yukon, where she will have to finish top-six in the 200m to make the cut.
“I hope that people will find their sport as an outlet, like I do, or that their faith will grow in God as they continue to see what he does for them in their sport,” Ray says. “I know I’m still pretty young with a lot of experience to be had, but with what I know, I hope when people read this they think ‘oh, she improved 2 seconds in her time, it’s possible!’ or ‘if her faith in God did that, I wonder what growing in my faith could do for me?”