2013 Woodland Hills High grad becomes Pitt’s first female ACC track and field champion
It literally took a tackle from a teammate for Desiree Garland to realize what just happened, what she just accomplished.
“She said, ‘You won, you won!’” Garland recalled her teammate, Whitney Martin, proclaiming, the two on the ground in celebration.
“And that’s when it hit me.”
Garland, 23, a fifth-year senior sprinter on the University of Pittsburgh track and field team, became the school’s first female ACC track and field champion, winning the 400 meters at the ACC Indoor Championships, Feb. 24, in Clemson, South Carolina.
There were two sets of runners for the 400m final. When the second heat finished their race, “they had announced that the girl from Duke was the champion. I was thinking, ‘Did I get disqualified?’” Garland said. “I knew that my time was faster than hers.”
The mix-up was rectified, and Garland’s time of 53.16 bested Duke senior Madeline Price’s 52.27, and Clemson’s Olivia James (53.35). The gold medal officially belonged to Garland, the pride of Woodland Hills High School.
“Desiree has been a strong leader for our program since she came to campus,” Pitt track and field coach Alonzo Webb told the New Pittsburgh Courier. “This year in particular I’ve noticed an even more dedicated and determined student-athlete. When she won the 400m title at the ACC Indoor Championships it didn’t surprise me; it just validated what I already knew.”
While the victory didn’t come as a surprise to Garland, she didn’t always “feel” like she was “on the top of the podium.”
The 2013 Woodland Hills High School graduate began her collegiate career at the University of Akron. Her freshman season, she competed on the track team. But her sophomore year, she did not compete. “I was really just down on myself, on my confidence and abilities,” Garland said.
She transferred from Akron to Pitt after her sophomore year. She realized she had work to do, including in the weight room, and from a nutrition standpoint. “My confidence had to really get up, and my (physical) strength—the weight room was very important—lifting, just getting stronger in general, all over.”
Garland continued: “I wasn’t focusing on other aspects of track. People think you just go to practice and run every day. There’s proper nutrition, sleeping habits, your technique, drills, warming up, cooling down, keeping yourself healthy…”
Last year, a formidable finish at a regional outdoor meet in Kentucky showed Garland that she can compete in the ACC. “I never ran that fast ever before,” Garland recalled.
Now a leader/captain on the women’s team, she went into February’s ACC Indoor Championships with this newfound confidence.
“I set mini-goals through the season. I wanted to get my 200m (time) down…break the (400m) race into different sections, then put it all together,” she said. “I really just wanted to get on the podium.”
She did more than just get on the podium. In front of the ACC world, Garland reigned supreme.
“No one expected a girl from Pitt, because they view Pitt as a relay team, but no one has Pitt on the map for individual. No one expected me to go in there and beat all those girls,” Garland said.
“With her work ethic in the classroom, on the basketball court and on the track, the newly found success doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Garland’s mother, Desiree Johnson. “But if you would have told me she’d be the first and only female track champion in Pitt’s prestigious history, I may have done a double take.”
Garland, who currently is a graduate student working on her MBA in marketing, touts her teammates as vital parts to her success. “You do every aspect of conditioning and practicing and traveling with these girls, and you really develop a bond with them,” she said.
Johnson told the Courier Garland has always “been self-sufficient, and eager to make her own way.” As a parent, it was important for Johnson to instill values in Garland such as a love for God, family, giving respect and having self-respect.
Now, it’s onto the ACC Outdoor Championships, May 10-12 at the University of Miami. Could Garland attain yet another gold medal? “A lot of girls are right on my heels,” she told the Courier. “It’s going to be intense, I got to work harder to defend the title, because they’re going to be coming for me.”
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