Mentality invigorates skill


James Chan

Alexis Henry runs during practice at Cox Stadium, Monday, Mar 11, 2019. After placing 10th as a program at the 2018-19 NCAA Division II Indoor Track & Field Championships, the women’s track & field team gets back to work two days later. (James Chan)

Alexis Henry (left) runs during practice at Cox Stadium, Monday, Mar 11, 2019. After placing 10th as a program at the 2018-19 NCAA Division II Indoor Track & Field Championships, the women’s track & field team gets back to work two days later. (James Chan)
In 2018, track and field athlete Alexis Henry was named a U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Outdoor All-American for the 4×100 relay and an All-CCAA athlete for the 4×400-meter race.  Her journey to get to where she is now has been one of self-reflection and focus.

Alexis Henry was always talented. It was in her blood, as her father, Lowell Henry, was distinguished as an NCAA Division II All-American runner for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 1971.

Even with her track success, basketball was her first love.  Track and field was something she did simply because she had a knack for it.

“I didn’t get really involved in track until last year,” she said. “I was really just running to run because I was fast and I was able to.”

Her talent quickly propelled her into greatness.

“The thing about really talented people is that they tend to try to let their talent take them places that their work won’t,” said her father.

Alexis Henry was a four-time MVP and four-time Pioneer League Champion in the 100 and 200 at South High School in Torrance, California, where she owns the school record in the 100, 200, 400 and 4×100. She then went on to become a two-time MVP and Scholar Athlete at her junior college, West Los Angeles College. But even with all of these accomplishments, the track star admits she wasn’t mentally prepared for the jump in competition that Division II athletics brings.

“It woke me up,” she said of the transition to SF State.  “Comparing junior college to an actual four-year […] I was in for a rude awakening. It was so much harder. It was more mental than anything. Junior college, it’s very easy, four days a week, you can skip days if you want to.”

SF State became a catalyst for the shift in her mentality.

“Out here, it’s every day, it’s intervals after intervals. It’s mentally taxing, so you kind of have to live up to what’s expected of you. I never had to really push or give my complete effort because it was something I was scared to do. Once I got here, I really developed and understood what
I was doing. I learned how to really run.”

Alexis Henry was forced to take a step back and reevaluate her mindset. She could no longer succeed off of talent alone.

“It was more mental,” said Alexis Henry of what she chose to focus on upon entering SF State. “I knew the form part: knees up, run with your hips up.  But here […] you’re running with Division II athletes, you [also] get to run against Division I athletes at all these meets. It was
scary. I really had to wake up and realize that I’m human just like all these other people.”

Confidence was something that Alexis Henry needed to reinforce in herself.

“I had to be confident. I came in here lacking confidence,” she said. “I feel like last season, it really wasn’t the best season for me and from the summer until now, I really had to redevelop my mental.”

She realized she had to look inward for success. With track and field as a non-contact sport, she realized her opponents may as well be irrelevant to her own challenge.

“When I run, I really blackout,” Alexis Henry says of her mentality while competing. “I have no idea what I’m doing until I’m done. I focus on myself.  I’ve learned that focusing on the people around me really just brings my performance down.  Part of the renewed confidence and mentality was the shift to running her race.

“I realized that this race is about me. I’m running against myself. Yeah, the people are here, but they don’t really determine anything that I do. They’re like little pawns.”

Alexis Henry says her father has been instrumental to her success. Though she has been living away from him for the first time in her life, he has still been a guiding presence for her, on and off the field.

“We talk every day,” Alexis Henry said of her relationship with her father. “Like every single day. He’s a caller. I just update him, we talk about it. He reassures me on things I need to work on. I keep that in the back of my head.”

She said it’s like he’s always there no matter what.

“She’s able to take what I tell her and translate it to the track,” Lowell Henry said. “A lot of times [for example], you can tell people how to write a paper, but they have to write the paper.  She’s a very good student when it comes to that because she has natural leg speed and that’s what puts her in her position [to succeed].”

Alexis Henry’s newfound focus has translated to the track seamlessly. Last semester, she ran the third-fastest time in SF State program history with 45.95 seconds in the 4×100 while taking gold at the Brutus Hamilton Invitational. She also ran the third leg of the 4×100 at the 2017-18
NCAA Outdoor Championships, claiming another program record time of 45.02 seconds.

In her most recent meet, the 2018-19 NCAA Division II Indoor Track & Field Championships in Pittsburg, Kansas, Alexis Henry and her teammates in the 4×400, Timarya Baynard, Jazmine Smith and Monisha Lewis, set a new program record of 3 minutes, 37.29 seconds, placing second.  Alexis Henry also placed fifth in the 400, while also being named an All-American for the second-consecutive season.

SF State will look to compete in the 2018-19 NCAA Division II Outdoor National Championships in late May from Kingsville, Texas, where Henry and the program aim to win a national title.

“I have the goal of winning nationals, she says. “In either the 200, the 400, and even our 4×4 relay. I have high expectations, but I’m also not going to focus on ‘I need to win, I need to win, I need to win,’ it’s more like, ‘I know what I have to do and what it takes for me to win.”