SI College Athlete of the Year nominee: LSU's Kimberlyn Duncan
The woman who is now the most decorated female sprinter in college track almost didn't make it out of the starting blocks in Baton Rouge. On the eve of her first home meet as a freshman in 2010, Kimberlyn Duncan called her family in Katy, Texas, begging to come home.
"I can't do this anymore," Duncan told her mother, Schrylean.
Duncan had won the Texas Class 5A state champion in the 200 meters as a high school senior but LSU had been the only school to offer her a scholarship. She lacked confidence and was terrified of having to compete as the lone freshman on one of the Lady Tigers' relay teams.
Schrylean Duncan wouldn't allow her daughter to give up.
"They believe in you," she told Kimberlyn. "[The coaches] see something in you that you don't see in yourself."
Even the Tigers' coaching staff couldn't have envisioned all that Duncan would achieve. Four years after that phone call home, Duncan is a five-time NCAA champion and nine-time All-America, specializing in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. She is the first collegiate sprinter to win NCAA indoor and outdoor championships in the 200 meters in back-to-back years. Her mark of 22.19 seconds in that event stands as the low-altitude collegiate record. At last season's SEC championships, Duncan ran 10.96 seconds in the 100 and became just the fifth college runner to break the 11-second mark. In March, Duncan made history again at the NCAA Indoor Championships, winning the 200 and becoming the first athlete in collegiate history to win three consecutive gold medals in an event at the indoor championships. She ranks third all-time among collegiate women in both the 100 and 200 meters. In 2012 she won both the NCAA Women's Track Athlete of the Year Award and the Bowerman Award -- the Heisman trophy of track and field. The sports administration major is also a runaway success in the classroom.
"Each year I push myself harder and harder," Duncan says. "That's what I've learned about myself: That I can continue to push when things get harder and I feel like giving up."
Duncan knows she'll need another big push -- and even more encouragement from home -- as she tries to qualify for the world championships in Moscow this August. Last summer, she placed fourth in the 2012 Olympic trials in the 200 meters, one place shy of making the team. But the cut emboldened rather than discouraged her. "Especially in track you'll have your down days and sometimes you have your good days," she says. "If you don't work for [your success], then you don't know what it means ... Put your all into your race so you leave the track with no regrets."