This spring, Karrington Winters was named the recipient of the 2019 Big Ten Medal of Honor, the conference’s most exclusive award that recognizes academic and athletic excellence.
Winters has created quite the legacy as a track athlete at Ohio State. She is a three-time USTFCCCA First-Team All-American as well as a two-time USTFCCCA Second Team All-American. She owns 24 event titles, four Ohio State Scholar-Athlete honors and is a three-time Big Ten Distinguished Scholar. In addition to her competitive accolades, Winters also serves as president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC).
Here are Karrington’s words on her time as a Buckeye student-athlete.
My future as a track athlete was pretty much set in May 2009. And it was because of a cupcake.
I was at a family picnic and some of us were racing for the last cupcake. I beat everyone, even the boys. Of course they weren’t having any of that and said “let’s do this again.”
We raced a few more times and I was still beating all of them. My uncle saw this and went to my parents and told them, “listen, it’s happening.”
It was happening. Even at the tender age of 12 years old, I was realizing that track and field was my thing, my sport. From that point on, I had success at every level: middle school, high school and up on the national stage. But I was still figuring things out, like which events were my events.
I’ve always been an endurance runner looking back at it. I started out in cross country and broke several records in that sport in middle school and high school. I eventually put some terms behind what I was feeling when I raced. I’m a strength runner, not a ballistic sprinter. Mid-distance or a long sprint was my forte. My best events are the 400-meter and the 600m. I wish I would’ve stuck with the 800m through college but you know, no regrets!
When I moved to Columbus not long after the “Cupcake Race of 2009,” I just knew Ohio State was the place for me. I kept thinking to myself, “I’m staying right here and expanding on this network I built.”
I started thinking. And my young, adolescent mind wanted to explore other avenues. Maybe I’ll go to the SEC or out to Oregon. Maybe Notre Dame. This place or that. But around my junior year of high school, I came back around to Ohio State. It had everything I wanted for my next phase in life. It had outstanding athletics. It’s a world-renowned university. They produce Olympians and the best athletes out there.
Ultimately, it was about balance for me. Other programs I visited placed a lot of emphasis on what you can do for that program and not what they can do for you. How can you help me get to where I want to be? Whether if that’s professionally, the Olympics, in the real world or corporate America. Knowing all of what is offered at Ohio State, I knew it was the perfect place for me.
Being a Buckeye has been an amazing experience for me. I’ve been named an All-American. I’m a part of three of the four fastest 4x400m relays in program history. I have numerous event titles under my belt. Even beyond Ohio State, I’ve competed at the IAAF U20 World Championships, taking home gold in the 4x400m.
Even with all of that, my biggest accomplishment as a Buckeye is being named the Big Ten Medal of Honor recipient. It’s an award not solely based on your athletic accomplishments or solely your academic accomplishments. It’s recognizing you for who you are holistically: a student-athlete.
Since I was in middle school, I’ve heard about the Medal of Honor. I wanted my name out there with the likes of Drew Brees and Jake Butt, or with Ohio State greats like Joan Pero, Katie Borchers, Kelsey Mitchell and Kyle Snyder. So many amazing athletes before me and now I’m recognized among them. That’s definitely my biggest accomplishment.
It hasn’t been easy. As all my runners know, pacing yourself is key to your racing success. However, it can be a struggle to NOT compare your own pace or path to others. Like many people know and recognize us for, Nick Gray and I have been dating since high school and it’s very hard to date a Nick Gray. He’s an amazing athlete. I mean, he just broke an 80-year-old school record held by one of the most famous Buckeyes in the history of Buckeyes!
Sometimes I caught myself comparing myself to him athletically. But the same goes for him and we’ve talked about it—it’s not easy for him to date a Karrington Winters, with everything I’ve done and want to do on the track and off. Let’s also not forget that I’m on a team with (All-American and National Champion thrower) Sade Olatoye, another amazing athlete who’s so far ahead of her time. But it has my toughest lesson: remembering that I’ve done historic things myself, and I’m on my own path that has led, and will continue to lead, to my own successes.
Balancing it all and pacing yourself is not for the weak minded. I’ve learned that I’m a lot tougher than I thought and I can handle more than I thought. Running SAAC, competing at the top of my sport, bringing in the grades and on top of all that, dealing with injuries. It can be excruciating but it’s also a testament to how gritty I am. Or what Coach Karen would say, how much of a warrior I am. I’m a lot tougher than I thought.
I graduated this spring and the end of my collegiate track career is in the not-so-distant future with Big Ten Outdoor Championships approaching and followed by the NCAA Championships. I’ve been doing my share of reflecting lately and I hope I’m leaving an inspired legacy behind me. I hope that I have and am blazing a trail to inspire those athletes behind me to get more involved in the student-athlete community and making an impact in whatever their niche or passion may be.
I’m looking forward to what life’s race has in store for me. My next starting line is as a merchandiser at Abercrombie and Fitch. I’m hoping to continue my influence on the student-athlete experience with Varsity O and the Ohio State Athletics Culture Review Committee.
The strength I’ve built in my time on this campus has definitely prepared me for the next step in my journey. It has taught me that, yes, track and field is a huge part of my life, but it is just that—a part. This sport and my time as a Buckeye have prepared me to take the world by storm.
My future is happening. Don’t expect my pace to wane now!