Senior Spring: Cha’Mia Rothwell to finish career at Duke after tallying nine Heps titles and shattering Ivy records

by Kaitlyn Lees and Boyd Bragg | 5/12/20 2:00am

Source: Courtesy of Cha'Mia Rothwell

Cha’Mia Rothwell ’20 has left big spikes to fill after her four seasons competing for Big Green track and field. Rothwell leaves Dartmouth with nine career Ivy League Heptagonal Championship titles, numerous athletic and academic awards and several school and league records under her belt. This year, she became only the third woman ever to win the indoor Heps 60m hurdle for four straight years. Rothwell will head to Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business next year to join their track and field team in her final year of NCAA eligibility. 

Rothwell grew up competing in basketball, track and field and volleyball in her hometown of Durham, North Carolina. She said that she started running at the age of six and decided to focus on track because she felt like she had the most potential in the sport. 

At Durham Academy, Rothwell held the 200m state champion title for three consecutive years and the 100m and high jump state champion title for a year. She was named Most Outstanding Performer four times at Durham Academy and twice in the conference. 

When looking at colleges, Rothwell said she was drawn to Dartmouth because of the team and coaching staff’s warm and welcoming atmosphere. She highlighted how Dartmouth provided a strong balance between athletics and academics. 

Tim Wunderlich, the jumps coach for the track and field program, described Rothwell as a “perfect storm of talent, motivation and competitiveness.”

In her freshman year at Dartmouth, she set the Ivy League record in 60m hurdles with a time of 8.30 at indoor Heps. She also set school records in the 100m hurdles with a time of 13.23 at outdoor Heps and in the long jump with a 6.17 meter (20’03”) leap at indoor Heps. 

Rothwell said that she was surprised with her performance in her first Heps race; while she expected to perform well, she did not expect to break the Ivy record. 

“I didn’t let anything hold me back,” Rothwell said. “I knew I had a chance to make an impact right away, so I wasn’t going to shy down and back away from it just because I was young and a freshman.” 

Wunderlich said that Rothwell was able to build on her freshman performance by creating a “lifestyle” around her athletic goals and staying focused on them at Dartmouth. Rothwell said that she was also “internally motivated” to push the standard she set for herself with each competition. Specifically, she focused on weight training, which she said made a big difference in building up strength, power and speed. 

In her sophomore year, Rothwell broke her own Ivy League record in hurdles at home during indoor Heps and notched another Heps title with a win in the long jump on her first jump in the meet.

In her junior season, Rothwell was off in the fall and also suffered an arm injury. Despite taking time off to heal, Rothwell still managed to come back in the winter and defend her 60m hurdles title. 

Teammate Danielle Okonta ’20 recalled watching Rothwell compete in the finals every year and being nervous for Rothwell as the defending champion who everyone was aiming to beat. 

“I’ve always enjoyed being at meets with her and watching her compete and be successful ... because every race is different — the circumstances, what’s to gain or to lose — but the outcome has always been the same,” Okonta said. “She’s always been the champion.” 

Heading into her last competition in a Big Green uniform, Rothwell said that she felt pressure to defend her 60m hurdles title a final time and to honor late women’s track and field’s head coach Sandy Ford-Centonze, who died after a battle with cancer in December 2019. 

“She was very close to [Ford-Centonze], and [Ford-Centonze] was her individual coach with hurdles and sprints,” Okonta said. “Not having her there and still being able to train and compete and to once again defend her title despite the circumstances is amazing to see.” 

Rothwell won the 60m hurdles for the fourth time in four years at indoor Heps with a time of 8.31 and had a fifth-place finish in the long jump at 5.92 meters (19’5.25”). She finished her career with six Ivy League indoor Heps titles. 

Rothwell was named to numerous All-Ivy First Teams for her performances at Heps, including the indoor 60m hurdles all four years, indoor long jump in 2017 and 2018 and outdoor 100m hurdles in 2017, 2018 and 2019. She was named to the All-Ivy Second Team in 2018 for the indoor 200m and outdoor long jump. Rothwell was also named the Ivy League Indoor Heps Most Outstanding Female Field Performer in both 2017 and 2018. 

Rothwell was honored by the Dartmouth athletics department with the Class of 1976 Award in 2016 and 2017, given to the most outstanding female athlete of the year. Her career bests at Dartmouth were 7.45 in the 60m, 8.20 in the 60m hurdles, 13.24 in the 100m hurdles and 6.27 meters (20’7”) in the long jump. 

“If you’re looking for the second best hurdler or long jumper at Dartmouth, she’s well beyond even the second best person, so she’s going to leave a really big legacy here for us when she graduates,” Wunderlich said.  

Rothwell also served as a team captain her junior and senior years. Okonta recalled Rothwell’s ability to lead by example and compete at a high level while still being a fun teammate. Wunderlich also noted Rothwell’s leadership and ability to hold herself and others accountable. 

“She’s been a really big leader for us for a long time,” Wunderlich said. “There’s a lot of athletes that come through Dartmouth that are talented, but she has a rare combination of all the factors that are involved to be good and really make an impact far beyond what [she does] on the track.” 

In the classroom, Rothwell is a psychology major, and she received recognition for her academic achievement with the 2019 Class of 1948 Scholar-Athlete Award. Although she did not originally intend on pursuing a masters degree immediately after graduation, the extra year of NCAA eligibility granted to spring athletes who saw their season cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic opened up new opportunities for Rothwell

Wunderlich believes that the experience will push Rothwell even further. Next year, Rothwell will return to her hometown of Durham, North Carolina to compete for Duke University while pursuing a masters in management studies at the Fuqua Business School. Rothwell spoke of her excitement to compete for the Blue Devils, as she grew up as a Duke fan. 

“It’s fitting for me to come back home where I’m familiar,” Rothwell said. “Obviously, Duke is a great school athletically and academically as well, which fits in with my personal values and what I want to do.” 

Wunderlich said that he believes Rothwell’s post-graduation year at Duke could open up opportunities for Rothwell to run professionally, and Rothwell is still contemplating the idea.

“It’s something that is in the back of my head,” Rothwell said. “My first priority is making sure my career is set up and I have something to fall back on if the opportunity of running professionally isn’t there. If it is, we’ll see how this next year goes.”