Before Amira Young picked a favorite sport growing up, she sensed track and field might be her calling, especially based on her family's history.
Her father, Maurice, was a sprinter at the University of Illinois in the 1990s. Her grandmother, Maddie, competed in high school and college, including against track legend Wilma Rudolph, who won three gold medals at the 1960 Olympic Games.
Young wasn't forced to follow in their footsteps, but she still became the fastest in her family and fastest Gophers female sprinter ever.
"When my parents first put me in track, I didn't like it," the 22-year-old Chicago native said. "As I got older, I didn't feel like it was pressure. It was something I wanted to do."
Breaking records was something Young wanted at the U. And she saved her best for last.
A fifth-year senior, Young became the first Gophers athlete to qualify in three different events for the NCAA outdoor track and field championships, scheduled Wednesday through Saturday in Austin, Texas.
Young now holds four Gophers individual sprint records, most recently breaking her own 100 and 200 meter marks to reach the NCAAs. And she'll also lead a Big Ten runner-up 4x100 relay team in Texas with Akilah Lewis, Odell Frye and Lauren Hansen.
What makes this season even more special for Young is that she qualified individually for the NCAA outdoor meet for the first time since making it in the 100 as a freshman in 2019.
"Last year was a bit of a struggle because I didn't set any [personal records] at all," Young said. "That's why this means so much to me that all the work I put in is paying off."
Break from track
Young left running competitively for two years while participating in ballet and pointe at the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center going into middle school.
When she finally returned to track after 2015, Young was ready to take training with her father and competing seriously. She raced in top club and junior national events as an eighth-grader. Workouts with her father included watching college meets together to pick up pointers.
"That's when I realized I could really do something with track," Young said. "When we were watching college championships, he would break things down for me for different races. I was just learning."
At Whitney Young High, Young remembers not having a high school track to practice. Her team ran in the hallways at school on mats and outside at nearby parks. But she managed to win six state titles and earned All-America status.
Her father and mother both were Illinois graduates, but Young wanted to leave the state for college.
After Gophers track and field coach Matt Bingle reached out in recruitment, Young was attracted to the U being in the city and to the school's kinesiology department. She has a desire to get into sports medicine.
Bingle sealed the deal by "really standing out," Young said. "Because I could tell he cared about athletes on and off the track — and it was important for me to grow as a person."
Young's career started off in impressive fashion with her breaking the school's 100-meter outdoor record as a freshman and finishing runner-up in the Big Ten.
Sustaining that success was difficult, though, especially when her times were not improving as expected during the 2022 season. She used different methods to focus on having a breakout senior year, including diet, sleep and even meditation.
"I just felt like my mind-set was just different, being my last year," Young said. "I told myself I want to run every race like it was my last — and I focused on the little things."
Starting with the indoor season, Young set school records in the 60 and 200 meters with Big Ten titles earlier this year. In the NCAA West Regional outdoors in Sacramento last month, she set school records with times of 11.07 seconds in the 100 meters and 22.84 in the 200 meters. Those marks made her the first Gophers woman to qualify for the NCAA outdoor championships in both events.
"I would say I'm most proud of helping the Minnesota track team really build their sprint group," Young said. "It was kind of like going into the unknown at first. It's nice to see how I helped Bingle build it from the ground up in short sprints and adding on with different people."
As one of the Gophers' all-time great careers is ending, Bingle appreciates the challenges his star sprinter overcame to reach her potential.
"She's used all of the things during her track life to get to this point," Bingle said. "When I was recruiting her, she talked about being in this position. A lot of athletes say that, and you don't know if it's going to be true ... but she's here doing it."