History-Maker Kemba Nelson believes switch from UTech to University of Oregon is the right move

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History-Maker Kemba Nelson believes switch from UTech to University of Oregon is the right move

BY PAUL A REID
Observer West writer
reidp@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, October 15, 2020

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By signing the scholarship offer sheet to attend the University of Oregon, former Mt Alvernia High sprinter Kemba Nelson created history, becoming the first Jamaican-born and -bred female athlete to attend the institution.

Nelson, who left the island last week for Eugene, Oregon, will join fellow former Jamaican junior representative Xavier Nairne who will start his sophomore (second year) season, while another Jamaican Oraine Palmer graduated last year.

American 400m runner Phyllis Francis, who is of Jamaican parentage, but was born in New York, also attended the University of Oregon.

After three years at the University of Technology (Utech), Jamaica, Nelson, who was the national junior double sprint champion in 2019, said she felt it was time to make the move, as she had always wanted to attend college in the USA and to compete on the NCAA circuit.

When she decided on the switch, the four-time national representative said she had a number of options at top American universities, but told the Jamaica Observer West that the Oregon 'Ducks' was the best of the lot.

“Yes, there were other options, so choosing Oregon wasn't easy,” she said, adding that in at least one other case she would not be able to leave [Jamaica] until January.

“I wanted to leave ASAP [as soon as possible] and so Oregon was the better of the two,” she stressed.

A friend, who she said is in the process of launching a recruiting company, was instrumental in helping her during her search for a school.

“I reached out to him and expressed interest in a change of environment. It was pretty late [in the year], but he reached out to a few schools and Oregon was one of a few with interest,” she told the Observer West.

“I really liked what I had seen from the school and they were eager to have me so they rushed the process along for me to get in just in time. So yeah, I'm excited to be a duck now and I look forward to continued growth there.”

Maybe it was an intuition that led her to decide to leave now as a few weeks after she started the process, UTech announced they were cutting back on their sports programme due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I want to evolve as an athlete, get more exposure as it relates to collegiate competition, to be able to get new experiences. The cut back in the UTech programme didn't really affect me because I decided to leave way before that so that was just God working in my favour because I didn't fall into that situation,” she explained.

Nelson, who will be studying applied economics, business and society, and who will have just two years eligibility at Oregon, was grateful for what she achieved at UTech under the guidance of Coach Paul Francis.

“I was at UTech for three years and while there I was the Under-20 double national champion in 2019 as well as making four national junior teams, lowered by personal records from 11.7 seconds to 11.4 seconds in the 100m and from 23.8 seconds to 23.5 seconds in just my first season,” she noted.

There were also the disappointments as well, she added, as she struggled with injuries and also “I wanted to compete in the 100m at the intercollegiate championship and I didn't get that opportunity.”

She says she is now switching her focus to the more competitive NCAA track and field which, she said, she has followed.

“I love how competitive it looked and have always dreamt about competing there, my aim is to be able to evolve as an athlete and to continue lowering my personal best times and to complete my degree,” she said.

The 2022 World Athletics World Championships will be held at the renovated Hayward Field at the University of Oregon and by then Nelson would have been in her final year.

“The goal is to make that World Championship team as it has been a dream of mine. It would be a really good feeling to be a part of that team and compete in the same stadium which I train in,” she told the Observer West.

For Nelson, her athletics career started at Mt Alvernia High with Coach Andrew Henry. She said while the Catholic all-girls' high school was not known for track and field, “I didn't let that stop me from showcasing my talent.” “It really pushed me to work hard in order to get recognition so there's always that drive within me to always work hard in order to get to the top,” she argued.

At Mt Alvernia, Nelson established herself with back- to-back sprint double titles in the 2016 and 2017 seasons and also took silver in the Class 2 girls' 100m at the ISSA Championships in 2017.

She did not compete much in the 2020 season due mainly to the coronavirus pandemic, but she said she used the break to “focus more on my injuries.”

“I was also going to a physiotherapist and doing rehabilitation to strengthen a lot of areas that were not as strong. So for the most part I'd say yes I'm over them,” she pointed out.

And while admitting that she is not as fit as she should be going to Oregon, she said that is not an issue.

“I am always ready to work hard. Oregon has an interesting programme and despite me not being fully fit, I do believe that the programme will get me to that level in time for the indoors season,” she argued.

It will be Nelson's first time competing indoors, but she told the Observer West that she is ready for the new experience.

“I will be expecting a lot of competition, a lot of team spirit from the 'Duck' family and of course, fast 60ms and 200ms races,” she said.


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