SHORT GAP, W.Va. — Frankfort High School graduate Bria Welker, she of the West Virginia Class AA state track and field champion Lady Falcons, not to mention the holder of 11 individual state titles and two state records, put her name on the dotted line to pursue an even higher level of excellence for the next four years as a scholarship athlete on the West Virginia University track and field team.
Welker, a three-sport star who overcame unthinkable odds to become one of the most fabled performers in West Virginia scholastic sports history, signed her NCAA National Letter of Intent to run with the Mountaineers and Head Coach Sean Cleary Wednesday afternoon in the commons area at Frankfort High School.
Welker had narrowed her college choices to West Virginia and Coastal Carolina but she never seemed to doubt where she would land.
“I really did like Coastal Carolina,” she said, “but honestly, I thought West Virginia was the place for me all along because of the opportunities it presents academically and athletically. West Virginia has a great track program and the coaches are very personable and very organized.
“My major is exercise physiology and West Virginia is well established in the field. Since the eighth grade I’ve wanted to be a physical therapist, and now having had the experience of going through physical therapy only added to my desire to become one.
“I just felt West Virginia was the perfect fit.”
To say Welker has gone through physical therapy would not be unlike saying Babe Ruth hit a few long flyballs.
Having already won three state titles as a freshman, Welker tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her right knee during her sophomore basketball season. Following her rehab, though, she came back to break two state meet records as a junior, winning the long jump with a mark of 17 feet, 8 1/2 inches and a victory margin of more than 10 inches, and the 100-meter dash (12.33 seconds). Then she broke the 27-year old state record in the 200 meters (25.15) as well as the state record to win the 400 in 57.13
As a senior, seven months after tearing her left ACL playing soccer in October, she came back to win state titles in the 100 (12.47 seconds) and the 200 (25.67), tied her state record of 57.13 in the 400, then won her fourth state title in the 300-meter hurdles in a time of 45.45 seconds.
“I don’t know how to put it into words,” said Frankfort head coach Amanda Moreland. “Physically, Bria has been through so much, yet she’s been so far ahead of schedule in her recoveries. I’m sure being young helps, but to come back the way she did, it’s nothing short of phenomenal.
“It’s one thing to recover from a torn ACL at the level she performs. But to turn around and tear the other ACL and do the exact things she had been doing ... To be where she was then, have it happen again and then win four more state titles, it’s incredible.”
Welker and WVU track have shared a mutual interest in one another since she attended the WVU track camp her freshman year. Although, she says, the WVU staff could never seem to determine which of her events would better suit her in college.
“They told me I was a confusing one,” she said. “They didn’t know if I would be a 400 dash runner, and now they’re saying 400-meter hurdles or the 800. I think they were trying to intimidate me, but I’m open to the challenge.”
Given her talent and versatility, Cleary and his staff may still find the former Frankfort star to be a confusing one.
“It’s still up in the air,” Welker said as to which events she will run in Morgantown, “but (Cleary) said I could run anything from the 200 to the 800. Or since I opened up in the hurdles I could really excel in the 400 hurdles — or become a heptathlete, which is the 800, 200, 100 hurdles, shot put, javelin, long jump and high jump.”
Women’s heptathlon is also an Olympics and IAAF World Championships two-day event, with the first four events contested on the first day, and the remaining three on day two.
“I honestly really wanted to do that from the beginning,” said Welker. “I feel like I excel in almost half the things now, although I’ve never tried the shot and the javelin. But it would be an opportunity to excel in something else.”
Prior to the outdoor season, however, Welker will compete for the WVU indoor team.
“Honestly, I have no experience because West Virginia (high school) doesn’t have indoor track,” she said. “My senior year I was going to run unattached in Maryland, but with the injury I never could. It’s just a new season. I’m not intimidated; I’m more excited by it — new events, different opportunities.”
When it comes to new events and different opportunities, Welker has established a pretty fair track record in targeting her goals and tracking them down. Her approach to college will be no different.
“Academically I want to graduate in four years and either continue physical therapy school at West Virginia and earn a doctorate in physical therapy or continue elsewhere,” she said.
“Athletically, I want to make it to the NCAA nationals. To be there would be incredible with so much competition and to be able to get a feeling for what track really is.”
As Welker looks ahead, she said she’ll never forget to look back to remember the people who helped her through her injuries.
“First and foremost,” she said, “I would like to thank (Frankfort assistant coach) Nate Hayes for always pushing me in being my coach in the offseasons and during the season. Chris Whiteman was my physical therapist and he always pushed me and helped me recover from my knee injuries. And without my surgeon Dr. Carls performing my surgery, obviously, I couldn’t continue.”
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org