PERRY -- When no college football program offered Jerod Wims a scholarship out of high school, he turned to track and field. And there he found gold -- competing at the college level and later abroad professionally.
Now, Wims, a 26-year-old Perry firefighter, is reaching again for the gold: a spot on Team USA and a chance to compete in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Qualifying is in June 2016.
Its going to be very, very competitive, said Wims, who was the captain of the track team at Auburn University his senior year. Its going to take a lot of hard work.
His season best for the 100-meter race in 2013 is 10.30 seconds, he said.
Most recently, Wims racked up four medals at the United States Police and Fire Championships in San Diego in June. He came back with a gold medal in the 4x400-meter relay, a gold medal in the 100-meter dash, a silver medal in the 4x100 relay, and a silver medal in the 200-meter run.
Placing second in the individual race took him by surprise. Brent Gray, a Los Angeles County sheriffs deputy, beat him. The two had competed against one another at the college level. Wims had no idea until the competition that Gray also had gotten into public safety.
I expected to go and get as many golds medals as possible, but when I got there, I ran into somebody who was just as fast as I was, Wims said. We locked eyes. I was like, What are you doing here? And he was like, What are you doing here?
I went there with no butterflies. I was not nervous at all until I saw him, Wims said. I probably had a big head about it. I was a little cocky. Id come to get those medals ... and maybe go to the beach. When I saw him, ... I put on my business suit.
Wims was at Auburn and Gray at Long Beach State University when they first competed.
Reached by phone, Gray said he expects that both he and Wims have a shot at the 2016 Olympic team
I think its possible with hard work and dedication, Gray said.
In March, Wims took home two medals in the Trinidad and Tobago Relay Carnival -- a gold in the 4x400-meter relay in 3:04 and a bronze in the 4x100-meter relay for a team time of 39.71 seconds. He also competed with Team USA in the Diamond League Tour and won a gold in the 4x100-meter relay in Brazil with a team time of 39.27 seconds.
A native of Miami, Wims played wide receiver on the football team at Miami Carol City Senior High School. His coach had suggested that he also try out for the track team, which he did reluctantly. Although he applied himself, Wims said he wasnt good at it. He had never trained and run competitively until then, so he was at a disadvantage.
When he realized he would not be playing college football, Wims focused on excelling at track. He went into strict training long before the season opened, and it paid off. He placed third in the 400-meter race his senior year at the state high school championship meet, where college scouts of all kinds were watching.
But then Wims veered off course when a late opportunity to play football opened up at Florida A&M University. Once he was on the football field, though, Wims quickly realized it wasnt going to work. He turned back to track on a scholarship to Florida International University. But Wims had not been training, and he suffered for it his first year. But he hit his stride the next two years -- then transferred to Auburn, also on a scholarship.
He ended up taking the five-year college plan with the transfer and lost credit hours. But he had honed his running abilities that led him to run professionally for a living.
Finding a career
He next decided to fight fires for a living while also pursuing his goals on the track.
Wims has been a city firefighter since March 2010. He moved to Middle Georgia to be closer to his parents, who had retired in Miami and then moved to Byron after visiting a relative in Macon. His parents enjoyed the slower pace of Middle Georgia. Two brothers of his mother are both retired firefighters. Hed always admired and respected them.
And the shift rotations for firefighters allow Wims the time he needs to train and compete professionally with the blessing of the fire chief.
The brotherhood, Wims said of the draw to becoming a firefighter. This is another family. I spend a lot of time with these guys. We work 24-hour shifts and were off 48 hours. But Im with these guys. I know these guys have my back if my life is in danger and I have theirs in the same way.
Fire Chief Joel Gray said the drive and discipline that Wims has in running is also evident in the way he carries himself and performs as a firefighter.
Its great motivation, especially for those he works with, Gray said. Hes kind of someone everybody looks to -- to stay physically fit.
Wims also is a professional trainer with about 10 athletes that he coaches one-on-one. He also is the head track and field coach at Windsor Academy in Macon as well as an assistant football coach.
He said hes able to pass on his experiences to the young athletes. He also knows the world of track and field inside and out and knows how to negotiate the system.
Wims is also a father. He has a 6-month-old boy in Perry and twin girls, age 7, in Florida.
With so much going on, Wims said he expects he will have to narrow his focus as the next Olympic Games draw near. He may enter another international competition before the year is out. Hes already working on his training schedule for next year.
His dream of competing for Olympic gold has also won support from city leaders, who recognized him at a July 2 council meeting.
Ive never seen a group of people that have had so much support, Wims said. Theyre just behind me. The whole city is behind me. Theyre just like, Go do it!
And if Wims doesnt make it to the Olympics?
As long as I know Ive done everything I can do, then Im not going to be mad about it.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.