Make Decisions to Achieve Goals: Aaliyah Butler's Road to Paris

Make Decisions to Achieve Goals: Aaliyah Butler's Road to Paris
Aaliyah Butler competing in the 2024 NCAA indoor track championships

By Micahya Costen

University of Georgia 400m sophomore and track star, Aaliyah Butler punched her ticket to compete in the 2024 Paris Olympics for Team USA.

The trip and opportunity to compete are highlights for Butler. And her perseverance, after failing to qualify for the final at the 2024 NCAA Outdoor Championships in Oregon earlier in June, creates an inspiring comeback story that will encourage other aspiring athletes.

" After that (NCAA Championships), I was kind of down a bit because I kind of didn't want to go to trials anymore. I was like, 'I don't know if I could do it,' especially thinking about my leg," Butler said. "But I talked to my coach and my family, and they were like, 'You just have to push through it. Get the mindset to be great and go to trials,' because they knew I could do it."

Growing up in a competitive household with three brothers, the Butlers would motivate each other by making everything a competition from who could clean their room the fastest to playing cards and sports.

"I think that's what made us great and very successful in real life because we always want to do better than the next person," Butler said.

With that competitiveness came recognition of Butler's skill, as she exerted her energy while playing with her brothers at home. When her mom decided to put her on the track, everyone noticed Butler's talent as she began winning meets despite starting in the middle of the season.

Running the 100m, 200m and 400m, Butler found her race, despite her lack of fondness for it in the beginning, she started seeing the success that came from running her new main event, the 400m.

As a Florida native, Butler attended Piper High School for two years and transferred to Miami Northwestern High School for her last two. In her adolescent career, Butler became a three-time Florida state champion, three-time All-American, broke the Florida state record in the 400m and became a national champion.

"It was very exciting (Her prior accomplishments). I didn't know I was going to run that fast, and it kind of just showed me I really could go to college and be really successful," Butler said. "And it started to make me like track more because I honestly did not like it as much."

Butler enjoyed seeing her work pay off and getting attention from her wins and talent. All of this, before attending the University of Georgia, where Coach Caryl Smith Gilbert recruited her and showed her belief in Butler's future potential. Besides the track program, Butler, currently a film major was also drawn to the school because of the major program, academics and the campus environment as a whole.

"The campus is big, but it's not too big. So all the classes are around each other, and the academics are very well, especially, for my major, film has everything there...So that was, like, really a big plus at Georgia," Butler said.

On Sunday, June 23rd, Butler added a title to her collegiate status and will now be an Olympian. Clocking a 49.71 and coming in second with that personal best and school record, Butler's hard work has paid off once again and has booked her flight to Paris.

"I knew I got top three (After crossing the finish line), and I was surprised," Butler said. "I had to turn around and look at the Billboard, and I saw my name in second. I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I'm going to Paris.' I was very excited."

Excited to reunite with some of her college teammates also competing in Paris, along with meeting other fellow Olympians, Butler said she's most looking forward to meeting seven-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky.

"When I was younger, I saw her at the 2016 Olympics, and that's when I started doing swim lessons. I wanted to join a swim team and everything," Butler said.

As each week goes by and gets us closer to Olympic season, Butler explained how she has to have a mindset shift and strategy change as she prepares for her training.

"I'm going in more confident now that I'm going to the is a big stage, but I'm very young. I still am maturing and learning, so going into practice, I'm just working hard, and when I get to the Olympics, I'm just giving my all," Butler said.

Butler also explained how she wants to work on her nervousness before the races to improve her start and continue to keep her confidence going into this new chapter of her life.

Besides looking forward to trying the croissants and coffee she wants to check off her bucket list while she's down there, Butler aims to make an impact while enjoying time with her family and teammates to fully experience the trip.

The advice she would give to future athletes aiming to compete at a high level echoes her coach's words: decide on your goals early.

"You have to make a decision at any moment of time," Butler said. "And if you can do that, you'll be able to achieve what you want. You can't go back and forth between things, just make a decision and go with it."

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