Nicole Kelly

Dawn Cauthen-Thornton | December 20th, 2017
Nicole Kelly (Photo by Shaw Photography Group)

Nicole Kelly (Photo by Shaw Photography Group)

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Nicole Kelly is a highly-decorated track and field star. After all, she does come from a long line of athletes, starting with her grandfather who was a football, basketball, and ping pong player as well as a lifeguard in his heyday. He seems to have passed that gene down to her mother, who also lent her physical talents to track as a young girl and still competes to this day.

When Nicole was just eight years old, she started playing basketball at her local YMCA in Williamsburg, Virginia. A few practices in, a coach noticed how fast she could run up and down the court and asked had she ever considered track. “I cried during my first practice!” Nicole laughs. “I didn’t know anything about running so I just went out real fast and my legs hurt so bad.” She worked through the pain, declared she wasn’t a quitter, and kept going. By her second year, Nicole jumped over 13 feet in the long jump and won her first national championship at nine years old. She felt things turning around for her and began to enjoy the sport.

“I remember watching Flo Jo (the late Florence Griffith Joyner), Carl Lewis, and Jackie Joyner Kersee on t.v. and being mesmerized. So my goal as a kid was to go to the Olympics.” Nicole knew that it wouldn’t be an easy task to get there. Hard work and determination are a part of her make-up, so there was no question that she was going to do as much as she could to make her dream a reality. Heading into her freshman year in high school, Nicole was a varsity basketball player and participated in both indoor and outdoor track. She was inundated with practices, games, and meets daily. By the end of that year, the young, determined athlete was burnt out.

That’s when she realized she had to make a decision. She went to her mother, her confidante and voice of reason, to ask what she should do. “She told me that it was completely my decision, but that she knew I was better in track and it was more likely that I could get a scholarship in that area than in basketball.” Nicole thought long and hard about the sport that started her athletic career. She loved the game and didn’t want to give up basketball. But she also knew her body couldn’t take much more of the stress from two sports. The decision to drop basketball proved to be the best, considering she landed a full track scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh three years later. In 1998 her high school retired her jersey and also established ‘The Nicole Kelly MVP Award’ presented to the girls’ track MVP each year.

On why she chose the University of Pittsburgh – Nicole explains, “I really liked the coach and the things he said during his visit. He explained their academic and tutoring programs they had for student athletes. And that was very important to me.” As a Pittsburgh panther, her specialty was the pentathlon (5 events) which consisted of the hurdles, the high jump, the long jump, the shotput and the 800 meters, as well as the heptathlon (7 events) adding the javelin and the 200 meters. In 2000 and 2001 she placed first in the heptathlon for the Big East conference, breaking the record both years. In the latter year, the women’s team walked away with the Championship title for the ECAC.

In 2004, she still had her sights set on qualifying for the Olympics and moved to Greensboro to utilize the coaches and facilities at N.C. A&T. Though she was able to get in the best shape she’s ever been in, she was unable to qualify at the trials, for various reasons, including an injury. She was now at another crossroads in her young life. Should she give it another try or simply move on? Still getting offers to train with organizations, Nicole made the most difficult decision, to hang up her running shoes and admire the Olympics from afar.

She wasn’t sedentary for too long though. In addition to getting a full time job, she began competing in local gym competitions to make sure she stayed active and healthy. Even now, she still competes in track and field on the master’s level for athletes 30 and over. “Three years ago my mom came to one of my meets and saw a mother/daughter duo competing. The daughter was in her 60’s and the mother was in her 80’s. My mom realized she could do it too.” Now her 57 year old mom and her aunt both lace up their sneakers. Nicole taught her aunt how to throw the javelin which led to her winning a competition and ranking 7th in the nation.

Starting in 2014 Nicole won the javelin and the shot put, and placed in the top five in the high jump, four years in a row. She regularly participates in games in NC and VA and is currently preparing to compete in the World Championships in Spain in 2018 and hopes to obtain sponsorship to help with expenses. Nicole is proof that you should never give up on your dreams. You may just have to take a detour to an alternate location.

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