Wichita is home to the fastest 9-year-old in America.
When Juliah Bolden began competing nationally in the AAU track and field circuit, no one knew anything about her or Wichita, Kansas.
They still might not know where to locate Wichita on a map, but they know who Bolden is after she won the 100- and 200-meter national championships in the 9-year-old division last month at the AAU Junior Olympic Games. The year before Bolden broke the national record in both races in her title-winning performances in the 8-and-under division.
“She’s building herself a nice, little dynasty right now,” said Jimmy Bolden, her father. “Now when she steps on the track, they know know who Juliah is.”
So how does a sprinting prodigy come from Wichita in a sport dominated usually by sprinters from Florida, Texas, and California?
The Bolden name should sound familiar to those plugged into the Wichita sports scene.
Jimmy Bolden led Wichita State basketball in scoring (13.4 points per game) during the 1992-93 season, while his oldest daughter, Jewell, won seven Kansas high school state championships in track and field at Collegiate and Andover Central from 2014-17 and was undefeated in the 100 hurdles.
Shirley Bolden, the mother, might be the most accomplished of them all. She was a three-time All-Big Ten sprinter at Michigan State and Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 1989.
“Juliah is following right in the footsteps,” Jimmy Bolden said. “Jewell was real good at that age and very competitive, too. I think Juliah might be just as competitive.”
Jewell, now a redshirt freshman at Park University, has taken a special interest in training her younger sister. She remembers the grueling workouts that Juliah is currently going through, and she can empathize with her.
So Jewell attends as many practices as she can during the summer to give Juliah someone to run with. But don’t think she takes it easy on her little sister.
“They fight a lot and sometimes I have to separate them,” Shirley said, laughing. “But Jewell is just trying to help. Juliah doesn’t get it right now, but I think she will later on.”
That’s because Jewell recognizes the potential in Juliah.
“To be able to watch your sibling be just as good or even better than you is so fun to watch,” Jewell said. “I would love to see her break more records and have more success than I did. I think it would be great to see her go on and do more than I did.”
Being this fast at Juliah’s age has a lot to do with genetics and maturation.
Juliah’s biggest advantage over her competition right now is her strength, which becomes obvious when you watch her use it to pull away from the pack by the 50-meter mark of every race.
But as she grows older that advantage will diminish. She has a training strategy for that, however.
“Right now we don’t really focus on the sprinting,” Shirley said. “We’re focused more on the technique, having her form right. We know she’s not going to be able to go to the next level if she doesn’t run correctly.”
Juliah never runs longer than two minutes, rather focusing on high-intensity short sprints and improving her start out of the blocks. She also does speed training with Roy Birch of Birch Performance.
It all already has Juliah concentrating on her technique during races.
“I’m just trying to make sure I keep my knees high and push my hips,” she said.
But like a typical fourth-grader, Juliah’s attention span wanes, as does her attention to detail.
“She likes the meets, but she doesn’t like practice,” Shirley said. “Sometimes I’m worried because I don’t think she’s going to run that well. But I guess her determination to win is just that high right now because we struggle in practice.”
Jimmy Bolden likes to tell a story whenever someone asks him what’s the most impressive thing Juliah has accomplished to date.
Most expect him to say any of the national championships or the records she holds. After all, she’s already breaking 14 seconds in the 100 and on the verge of breaking 28 seconds in the 200.
But none of that ever impressed Jimmy as much as this summer when Juliah fell, for the first time, during a race.
“She finally got off to a good start and was ahead of everybody by 10 meters by the 30-meter mark,” Jimmy said. “And then she just completely face-planted. Mom had her back turned, thinking it was over.”
Jimmy will never forget the look on Juliah’s face. It was a look of anger.
“I was mad,” Juliah said.
“Mad because she thought she was going to lose,” Jimmy added, laughing.
So Juliah picked herself up off the track, ran harder than maybe she ever has and caught the leader just as they crossed the finish line. It may have been her slowest time, but Jimmy still contends it was her greatest victory.
“That’s the greatest race I’ve ever seen her run,” Jimmy said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Juliah was almost in tears after the race, thinking she had made a grave mistake. But waiting for her at the finish line, ready to wrap her in a hug and tell her what she had just done was incredible, was her older sister, Jewell.
“She has always been there for Juliah,” Shirley said. “I think Jewell gets even more hype than we do. She loves it.”
Jimmy likes to tell another story about Juliah’s determination and how she taught herself to do a back flip this summer. She would beg her dad to pull out the mattress every day so she could have a safety net to practice.
It shows how when she sets her mind to something, she doesn’t stop until she achieves it.
Sometimes that means trying to win at Fortnite and devouring as much pizza as possible. Other times it means trying to become the fastest girl in America.
“I truly believe she can achieve anything she sets her mind to,” Jimmy said. “We’re going to be proud of her, no matter what she decides to do.”