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Dickson (right) has the Penn's fourth-best distance all-time in the outdoor long jump, an event she only began in college.

Credit: Chase Sutton

From overcoming anxiety to picking up a new event in college, Penn track and field senior Camille Dickson’s path as an athlete has been marked by her willingness to be uncomfortable.

Dickson hails from Buda, Texas, graduating from Jack C. Hays High School. She does not come from a family of elite athletes. While her parents competed in high school, they did not continue into college, and Dickson is vastly different from her sister, who went the cheerleading route instead.

“I was the more sporty girl in the family,” Dickson said.

Though she’s now a sprinter and long-jumper, Dickson was a soccer player for 11 years before entering high school. It was then that she began to focus on track and field, running distance events with the cross country team. Dickson didn’t switch to shorter-distance events until her senior year of high school when a training group found her at a track meet in high school and encouraged her to become a sprinter.

“I started training at this place called Acceleration,” Dickson said. “After I started training there, my times just dropped drastically, so it was a natural switch to sprint.”

Dickson’s move from high school to college was laden with new developments. For one, there was the obvious geographic shift from Texas to the Northeast. Additionally, at Penn she honed her sprint technique, a process which usually takes years to gain.

One of the greatest changes came from a personal place, as Dickson worked through the overwhelming anxiety she would feel before her high school races. Now a senior and a captain of the team, Dickson has come a long way from where she was in high school.

“This might be [too much information], but I would literally throw up before every race,” Dickson said. “I would get in my head, and it would hinder my performance.”

Upon arriving at Penn, Dickson was encouraged by coach Porscha Dobson to pick up the long jump. It was another sudden change that—while it did build on her sprinting background—Dickson felt unprepared for. Dickson had some experience with the long jump in high school, but it was certainly not her main event.

“I wasn’t great, but I wasn’t horrible. My coach here just wanted me to try it out,” Dickson said. “I was horrified—I really didn’t want to do it because I was scared, just scared of failure.”

But Dickson had resolved to overcome her anxieties. She fixated on a particular quote that she read as a freshman: "You grow the most when you’re the most uncomfortable." Taking the advice to heart, she pushed herself to be more uncomfortable while at college, shoring up her confidence and leadership skills before she got where she is now.

“I came to the realization at the end of high school that the anxiety that I would have during races was something that I would have to battle, not something I could just let happen,” Dickson said. “It would take over my mind and body and it was so frustrating.”

Being willing to try a new event was a huge step in Dickson’s growing comfort with discomfort, a process that stretched over years. While some long jump mechanics were borrowed from those in sprint, such as running along the runway before the jump, others were completely foreign, such as taking off from the board.

“Freshman year, I did not know how to long jump when I was long jumping,” Dickson said. “It was a long process, and I’m still learning, honestly, but I’m so glad I got to do that.”

Dickson’s marks at Penn reveal her growth from when she first started sprinting in her senior year of high school and long jumping in her freshman year of college. She has the sixth-fastest time in Penn history in the outdoor 100-meter event, the seventh-fastest in the indoor 200m, and the eighth-fastest in the outdoor 200m.

The long jump is now Dickson’s favorite and main event. She holds the all-time fourth best distance at Penn in the outdoor long jump, with a mark of 5.94m. In her junior year, Dickson had a third-place finish of 5.81m in the long jump at the BU David Hemery Valentines Invitational and an eighth-place finish of 5.83m in the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships.

“I used to be so scared of even just speaking in front of a group, and I obviously [had a lot of anxiety with] running on a big stage,” Dickson said. “One of the biggest things I’ve gained is confidence, for sure.”

Now a senior and a captain of the team, Dickson is adjusting to remote athletics with the rest of the team. She still does not have access to a long jump pit despite some facilities reopening, meaning she spends a lot of time training in the weight room and building her strength there.

Dickson is no stranger to adjusting to difficult and uncomfortable situations. With a COVID-19-influenced season quickly approaching, Dickson is keeping her eyes set forward and making do with what she has.