Top Illini of Title IX: No. 6 — Perdita Felicien

Editor’s note: June 23 marks the 40-year anniversary of the passing of Title IX, a resolution that sought to stop gender discrimination in educational activities; athletics was one of those programs most affected. In honor of the 40-year anniversary, The Daily Illini is recognizing the athletes that have forwarded female athletics in the wake of Title IX’s passing. The Daily Illini summer staff sat down and sifted through a list of more than 30 nominees to name and order the top 9 female athletes of the past 40 years in terms of cultivating excellence for women’s sports at Illinois. Check out next week’s issue for Nos. 3-1.

With two Olympics all ready under her belt and a chance to make a third, Perdita Felicien has come a long way since snacking on candy and people-watching on the Quad.

Felicien, a Canadian resident, attended Illinois from 2000-03. Though this was right after the time that former Illinois runner and current women’s head track coach Tonja Buford-Bailey spattered her name throughout the record books, Felicien made her own impact right away.

In just her freshman year, Felicien not only took home Big Ten Outdoor and Indoor Freshmen of the Year, but also became an All-American after placing sixth in the Outdoor National Championships in the 100-meter hurdles.

Though Buford-Bailey had already graduated from Illinois, she was still in Champaign training for future events. She didn’t just train to help herself, but to help the incoming runners at Illinois fill her spot.

Lucky enough for Felicien, she was one of those runners.

“I was in my post-collegiate career, so I was here training and tried to be a mentor for that group,” Buford-Bailey said. “Perdita was one that stood out pretty early because she always knew that she wanted to be elite. A lot of the teams I noticed early in my career, Perdita was kind of going down the same path. So that was just little tips I was giving her, how to be better, how to take care of yourself, why that’s so important. I remember one year to the next seeing her and I thought, ‘Wow, she’s in the best shape of her life.’”

Felicien said that one of the things she did when she was at Illinois was read the media guide. Felicien often saw the name of her mentor and knew she wanted to be at that level someday.

After a successful freshman year, Felicien continued to improve. She was named an All-American her sophomore year in the 60-meter hurdles and even won the event at nationals, setting the NCAA record in the process.

She credited this success to a more structured program at Illinois than in high school.

“In high school, I didn’t train very much; I didn’t train very hard,” Felicien said. “When I came to Illinois, there was structure, there was rules. There was a great program. Obviously, freshman year there are so many changes. Diet, food, access to basically everything. So those can turn out to be distraction. But the good thing for me is we had a great coach. We had a great system at Illinois that there were always resources to help keep you focuses, help keep you on track.”

Her former mentor saw improvements through the years and kept watching the progress of the track star that would compete with her at the 2000 Olympics.

One of the biggest improvements she saw Felicien make was the cutting out of a sugary snack.

“Perdita used to eat a lot of candy all the time. Candy, candy, candy. She had it stored everywhere,” Buford-Bailey said. “So she really started backing off that, monitoring that. So it’s just that little life talking; it’s what you have to do to be great.”

Felcien admitted that some of the best times at Illinois were sitting on the Quad in between classes and practice and watching people walk by. But the reason she chose Illinois wasn’t just the area, but who was running the program during her time.

“I chose (Illinois) because of (former head coach) Gary Winckler,” Felicien said.

Felicien said Winckler coached “stellar” athletes, including Buford-Bailey. She said she also liked the academic side of Illinois.

Winckler noted that even though Felicien had won seven national titles while at Illinois, he thinks the best thing she did was win world titles in 2003 and 2004.

“She was a good leader,” Winckler said. “She was someone who took control of the team. I think she probably did more by example in terms of her performances on the field. She abided by all the team rules. She contributed to the team conference meet by running multiple events. She was someone who just stepped up and got the job done.”

Though Buford-Bailey is now the coach of the women’s track and field team, she credits Felicien as being the “backbone of new era that came in.”

What has made her special is not only her skill, but her attitude.

“It’s her ability to win, her mindset about winning,” Buford-Bailey said. “She hates losing. Like, she really, really hates losing. It just never sits well with her. Because she is so talented, the great thing about it is sometimes she’ll kind of get in a cruise mode where it’s like, ‘Yeah, she’s just kind of cruising through.’ Then that moment she gets beat, next thing you know she’s on fire.”

When asked what her favorite moment in her track career, Felicien took some time to respond and compared the question to ‘asking a mom about her favorite child.’”

She is currently in Canada getting ready for the Olympic trials next week.

If she makes it, it will be her third Olympics, making her just the second Illinois alumna to qualify that many times.

The first?

Tonja Buford-Bailey.