The Story Behind De'Anna Nowling's Sprint Success

Calabasas junior De'Anna Nowling needed to run the fastest time of the season to win the 100-meter title at the 100th CIF-State Track And Field Championships last June. (Kirby Lee/Image of Sport)

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CALABASAS, CALIFORNIA -- The above imagine captures Calabasas High junior De'Anna Nowling in the micro seconds after crossing the finish line with the 100-meter title at the 2018 CIF-State Track Championships. 

The field Nowling had defeated included defending champion Ariyonna Augustine of Long Beach Poly (now at LSU), her dear friend and longtime sprint rival, Jazmyne Frost (who would lead Gardena Serra to the State team title that day), and the previous fastest girl in the California, Stockdale's Aaliyah Wilson (now at Washington).

Nowling's reaction to her stunning victory was a jumble of emotions beyond what was obvious. Within a few more steps she would be down on the track, crouched and crying. 

"At first I was happy," Nowling said recently, recalling the emotion, "and then I looked over and seen his mom and got on the ground and started crying. Everybody thought it was because I won, but I seen his mom."

'His mom' is a reference to the mother of her brother, who, along with her young sister, was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting in Victorville in 2014.

Only by chance is Nowling here today to tell the story.

Nowling's story is one of perseverance, talent, heart, quite a bit of dancing, a bright future, and survival.

De'Anna was at the house that day, some five years ago. She said she had been with her little sister just moments before but had left her to go inside. In whatever short time Nowling was inside the house, lives were taken outside.

"To me, it was a shocker. I was just frozen," she said. "I was frozen for like a couple months."

Her brother went by the nickname 'Braze'. He was 21, she said. Nowling remembers him in many ways including by using "lilbraze" as her name on Instagram.

Nowling, 17, the youngest of a large and complicated family, says her fallen siblings talk to her in her sleep. De'Anna talks back when she's awake.

"It's different every time," she said. "If I'm feeling nervous, 'Man, I'm nervous. Help me out.' Before I walk on the track I talk to God. But when I'm on the track, I talk to my sister and brother.

"At the line, if you see me looking up or looking down with my eyes closed, I'm talking to them."

Another way Nowling says she honors the memory of her siblings: "I run."


De'Anna Nowling (6) took on the fastest girls in California at the State 100-meter final and beat them all: Aaliyah Wilson (7), Jazmyne Frost (5) and Arriyonna Augustine (4). (Kirby Lee/Image of Sport)

Nowling's wind-legal 100-meter personal record of 11.47 seconds set in winning the CIF-State title, is the fastest returning time in California in 2019 and the No. 7 returning time in the United States.

Her all-conditions 200-meter PR of 23.62 also ranks No. 1 in CA and is No. 13 in the U.S.

And, off the radar when talking about Nowling's speed, her 55.84 PR for the 400 is fast enough to have qualified for the State Meet final last season. 

Jeff Clanagan, who has coached sprints at Calabasas for the last five years, says he likes his runners to focus on the 400 because "an athlete can always go down but an athlete cannot go up. It's very difficult to go up if they don't have that base." 

"(The) 400 is my favorite race," Nowling said. "I like running fours. I hate the two. Hate the two! Hate it with all my life!"


"Youth days," she said. "Youth days I ran all three (races). I just don't get how to run (the 200). It's a little off. Do I sprint here? Do I sprint here? The (100) and the (400) I know exactly what to do. 

"Even though I hate it, I'm going to have to fight to win it. I am good at it, surprisingly. I hate it ... every race I always caught up at the end. 'Oh, shoot. It's time to go!' "

Nowling will tell you, and Clanagan will agree, she's a fighter. 

She was raised by her grandmother before moving in with her mother, he said. Her siblings are all older and spread out, many with children of their own. Asked for a specific breakdown and it quickly becomes complicated.

"De'Anna has had a very, very tough journey," Clanagan said. "She hasn't had the support most kids have. She has the drive. She wants to get out ... . She knew the only way out was through education and track. I preached that to her early on when she came in as a freshman."

Nowling has been on the podium at the State Final in the 100 all three years, placing fourth as both a sophomore and as a freshman. She was fourth in the 200 at State last June and was seventh as a sophomore. She has won a Southern Section divisional title in the 100 all three years and the 200 title each of the past two years. Nowling has won or placed second in a 100-meter race 21 times over the last two seasons.

"She's a very driven individual, scholastically as well as on the track," Clanagan said. "She's self-motivated."

After the Friday preliminaries at the State Meet, Clanagan said Nowling had technical issues that they examined that night in the hotel. 

"She looked at the tape, saw where her mistakes were and just corrected those mistakes in the finals," he said, "and you saw the result of those finals. She's very smart from a track standpoint. And it's really just about making sure she's paying attention to her drive phase and all her three phases. She takes direction well, but she's not somebody you have to motivate."

De'Anna Nowling (in pink) runs the 200 at the CIF-SS Division 2 finals. (Kirby Lee/Image of Sport) 


De'Anna Nowling jokes with coach Marlene Wilcox at a recent practice. (Jeffrey Parenti photo)

De'Anna Nowling is a whirlwind of free-spirited energy. She greets visitors with a wide bright smile and a welcome as warm as that of an old friend. She jokes with teammates and coaches alike. But once she's on the track, the focus and determination are evident. 

It can be a stark contrast bridged by an unorthodox warm-up practice. While others are going through all-too-familiar routines, Nowling is the one with the over-the-ear headphones dancing to a song you wish you could hear -- "Jersey bounce music or some LA good songs," she says.

"Dancing kinda hypes me up and gets me loose. The dances I do just loosen me up. And it's just fun."

"De'Anna comes out to put work in," Clanagan says. "She understands how to prepare herself for practice."

Clanagan is well versed in how to manage Nowling's pre-race routine and he shares those instructions with his assistants.

" 'Let her put her headphones on, she knows her routine,' " he said he tells them. " 'She's experienced. You just need to keep her on the clock.' It's not like she needs that motivational speech at the beginning of a race."

Calabasas assistant Marlene Wilcox tells the story of how, as a freshman, Nowling qualified for the State 100 final. After the parade to the blocks and the long introduction of the nine finalists, there was a delay in the start of the championship race. The coach was naturally concerned for her 14-year-old runner on such a big stage. Imagine a football coach calling time out to freeze a rookie kicker with a the game on the line.

A big stage for Nowling? Sure.

Too big? Hardly.

What did Wilcox see her young teen doing to help pass the time during the delay? Of course, Nowling was dancing!

And once that race finally went off, Nowling ran 11.69, the fastest wind-legal time of her first high school season.

"She's always dancing and I love that about her," said senior teammate Kennedy Waite, a sprinter who has signed with Brown University. "Even before a race, she'll be listening to music in her head.

"It definitely puts you in a good mood when you're that nervous before a big race."

With headphones on, De'Anna Nowling prepares to dance ... before a tough workout. (Jeffrey Parenti photo)


Clanagan said community donations and local fundraising efforts to the track program have allowed the team to travel to out-of-area meets over the years like the Texas Relays, Stanford Invitational and New Balance Indoor Nationals in New York. It's also helped athletes like Nowling spend time during the summer at the IMG Academy in Florida. Nowling said she has spent more time in the summer in recent years in Florida than she has in SoCal.

So when the time came for her to pick a college, the University of Miami was a fairly obvious choice. 

"That's the crib," she says. 

When she posted her announcement on social media, she did so in a short video with none other than actor/comedian Kevin Hart.

The Kevin Hart? 


"I love to surround myself with greatness," Hart says in the 58-second clip before introducing Nowling, who then made her announcement. The clip has had nearly 16,000 views.

Clanagan, who is the president of the film company Codeblack Films, and a marketing company, Codeblack Digital, is also business partners with Hart. 

Hart and Clanagan are producers in a YouTube series called "What The Fit" where the comedian pairs up with celebrities to try different sports. Among the episodes: sumo wrestling with comedian Conan O'Brien, gymnastics with actor Terry Crews, basketball with actor Jack Black and NBA star Chris Paul, and ballet with actor Ken Jeong. 

There's also an episode being released on March 14 where Hart is coached by three-time Olympic medalist Carmelita Jeter as he attempts to compete in track and field. 

Clanagan, who says he counsels his athletes on social media and warns them of its pitfalls, said it is important for athletes to use the platform to build their brand. Taking that and running with it, Nowling, rather than what has become a cliche of choosing among different hats or shedding multiple t-shirts, did something unique and memorable as she told her social media audience that she was "taking her talents to The U." 

"As soon as I got out there, it' felt like I went there," she said of her official visit. "Me and the team, we were like one already. I felt like I was one of them. 

"I love Florida. I'm there every summer. That's home."

Screen capture from De'Anna Nowling's college announcement video with Kevin Hart posted to Instagram.


Transfer Bella Witt (right) adds depth to an already strong Calabasas team. (Jeffrey Parenti photo)

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Nowling's name is prominent on the track and field record board outside the stadium at Calabasas High, and that's even before the 2018 updates. She's the school record-holder in the 100, 200 and as a member of the 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams. But Nowling is hardly a one-girl team and that's especially true in 2019. The Calabasas Coyotes girls track team is absolutely loaded!

"These are my girls," she says. "I love them."

Senior long hurdler Kyla Robinson-Hubbard, who was second in the 300 hurdles at the State Meet, is the No. 1 returner in CA (No. 6 U.S.), and is also one of the state's top returners in the 400. 

Senior, Tierra Crockrell, is a heptathlete who lost most of her junior season to injury. If all the way back, she can score in multiple events. Waite is No. 17 among CA returners in the 100. And what assures Calabasas the favorite position for the girls team title at the State Meet is the addition of two accomplished sophomore transfers in Jade McDonald and Bella Witt.

McDonald, who moved from Santa Ana Mater Dei, is a 40-foot-plus triple jumper who was sixth at the State Final. She has also gone 18-11 in the long jump and 14.77 in the 100 hurdles. Witt, from Birmingham Community Charter, was the Los Angeles City Section champion in the 100 hurdles and medaled in the 200m and long jump while qualifying for State in the 200m and 100 hurdles.

"It's literally a track meet every day in practice," Witt said. "It doesn't matter what workout we're doing, small, long, whatever it is. It's always good competition because we want to push each other to be the best."

"This year we have an insane amount of talent," Waite said. "I'm really excited to see what we do. Everyone is really talented and we're all working really, really hard.

"I got so lucky. I was a tennis player before track. I'm so thankful I chose to commit to track, because I'm surrounded by, seriously, Deanna is No. 1 in the state, Kyla is No. 2 in hurdles. ... It's amazing to practice with such good talent every day."

Frost, Nowling's longtime friendly rival, is about all that returns for defending champion Serra. Nowling says it's time for Calabasas to take the team title.

"Sorry, Serra," she said. "We're speaking it into existence. And it's going to happen. It's going to happen. I'm not even going to say it's not going to happen or it's as a possibility because it's going to happen. It's going to happen."

Kennedy Waite (right) anchored Calabasas to a 4x1 relay victory at the division final. (Lizette Adams photo)


One potential flaw in that plan is that Nowling occasionally suffers from sciatica. When it flares up, it knocks her down until it is massaged out, almost like a persistent cramp.

"This is typical with De'Anna this time of the season," Clanagan said. 

There are times when she's on the ground in agony one minute and back on the track running a 200 with a teammate the next. 

"She always, always, always puts in 100 percent," Waite said. "Even when she's tired, she'll try to finish every single workout. That's what I really admire about her."

"I'm a fighter," Nowling said. "I kind of just ignore it when it needs to be ignored. And then after the race, it's like 'Come get me!' "

It wasn't sciatica that took her to her knees, sobbing on the Buchanan High track after winning the State 100-meter title last June.

Seeing Braze's mother did.

De'Anna said she knew she had a large contingent of family there that night but she said she didn't know his mother would be among them. 

And when De'Anna spotted her in the crowd in the instant the adrenaline and excitement of the race collided head-on with so much emotion: waterfalls. 

Nowling said it's the strength of the memory of her fallen siblings that helps her persevere through whatever challenges she faces, on as well as off the track.

"I just think about that -- all right, I got to be good," she said. 

"My brother's dead. My little sister's dead. So it's like, I've got to keep going for them."

De'Anna Nowling after winning the 100 meters at the State Final last June. (Kirby Lee/Image of Sport)