Kendell Williams was named the Gatorade National Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year.
Oct. 23, 2013
In April, the Georgia track & field team inked arguably the nation's top high school prospect for this season in Marietta native Kendell Williams. Williams is the second sibling from her family to compete for the Bulldogs, as her brother Devon is currently a sophomore decathlete on the men's squad. Kendell owns the U.S. Juniors records in both the heptathlon (5,578 points) and the pentathlon (4,068) but lists the 100-meter hurdles as her favorite event on the track. Georgia assistant coach Petros Kyprianou, who is working with Williams in the multi events, referred to her as a student-athlete who "has what it takes to be as good as Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Georgia alum Hyleas Fountain."
Now just over two months into her freshman year at UGA, Williams has already begun the process of balancing schoolwork and training, preparing for the upcoming indoor season, and taking time to enjoy all that Athens has to offer. Williams recently sat down with georgiadogs.com to share her thoughts on the transition from high school to college and to discuss life, both on and off the track.
Q: How has your dad, Blane Williams, influenced your involvement in track & field throughout your life?
A: "My dad has a track team that he's the head coach of, and he's been coaching for about nine or 10 years. He says that he was a runner, but he wasn't any great thing. My parents say all the time that they don't know how they produced two really athletic kids because they both weren't that athletic. My dad didn't necessarily stress winning with me too early. Sometimes I was in the back of my races when I was young and I would finish only in the top 20, but my dad would still make me a little prize to have. He wasn't really stressing that I had to win, and that way it was just fun. He made sure to keep it that way, and I think as I got older, I just started getting more serious and wanted to win out of my own will. I knew that I wanted to start working towards going to college and being able to run there."
Q: What drew you to come to Georgia, besides the fact that your brother was already here?
A: "(Multis coach) Petros (Kyprianou) and the rest of the staff really drew me here. I like that he's very calm, very patient and very technical. That's what I need. Petros does a really good job coaching us on all of our multi-events, and it just amazes me the way that he does it. He lets us have fun, but we're all really focused at the same time. I'm also an hour and a half from home, so I'm not too close but not too far. My parents can easily come here, and I just love the campus and the team. I'm really happy with my decision because it's been fun."
Q: What are your goals at this point?
A: "It may be too early to tell, but I definitely want to win an NCAA championship in some event. Before I leave here, I need to have an NCAA title! I like hurdling better than anything. Hurdling is my main thing, but I also like my jumps more than just open running."
Q: Are you and your brother, current Georgia decathlete Devon Williams, competitive with one another when it comes to track & field?
A: "We just like to support each other. Sometimes my dad would make us compete against each other in this one training drill - step-ups - but that was really it. He won that time, I think. He may have done more step-ups than me, but in a race I couldn't beat him. Now we just support each other and we're there for each other."
Q: How do you keep your body fresh and rested during a grueling multi-event competition?
A: "During competition, I'm usually stretching and sitting and making sure I get food and drink between events. In between actual days, I'm making sure to take an ice bath. I'm used to the ice baths by now - I'm begging for them! I just know my legs will be so done without them. The ice bath really helps, but you have to put a lot of ice in there - that's the key. My dad used to fill the bathtub with cold water and then put two 20-lb. bags of ice in there. I'm used to it by now, so I just sit there for 15 minutes and take it."
Q: What is your mindset like at this point in your track career as you begin thinking about all that you have the potential to accomplish collegiately and beyond?
A: "I just take it day by day. I know that the ultimate goal is to be the best, but that just seems so far away sometimes, so I really just try to work on it day by day. If I try to take it all in, I think I might get overwhelmed. I just want to go and do my training, do my best in the meets and then work from there."
Q: What are the team goals for this season, and what is the camaraderie like amongst all of your teammates?
A: "I love everyone on the team - everyone! We all just like to hang out, and that was also really important when I was looking for a school. I wanted to find a team that was really close, and I found that. Everybody has high goals for themselves, and I think we want to really do well in SECs and NCAAs as a team. We're all working hard individually in our events so that we can make that happen as a team."
Q: How do you think the high level of competition you have faced internationally will help prepare you for collegiate competition?
A: "I think it helped with my nerves a lot. If I can compete against all of these people from overseas, I can do it back home in the U.S., too. But at the same time, there's a lot of girls that I still haven't competed against and a lot of them are older than me, so I'm still going to be nervous. I think once I get my first couple of meets out of the way, my nerves will be back to normal and I'll be good. Because I've done so many hurdle races or done so many heptathlons, I just try to get amped. Whenever I'm competing against someone new or older, I get just a little nervous because I want to compete well against them."
Q: What has the strength-training regimen been like thus far in college?
A: "I took weight training for three years in high school, but that's nothing like what we're doing here. It's so much more intense here, especially since I didn't take weight training senior year, but Petros just threw me right in. I'm doing things like single-leg squats that I've never even heard of, and it's so hard! The first week I was walking around so stiff because I was so sore from the lifting. I think now I'm finally getting used to it and I like it, but some of the stuff is just really hard."
Q: How big of a role do sleep and nutrition play in your training?
A: "I tend to not have the best diet, but I'm working on getting better. Petros doesn't make me eat broccoli, but he's a fan of the healthy eating. I'm trying to work on getting more salads in during the week. It's hard because I like all fast food, but tacos are my favorite food and then chicken would be next. I love Cali N Tito's and Moe's, but you can't go wrong with Taco Bell either. As far as sleep, I usually aim to go to bed around 11:30 and I wake up around 7 a.m. It's not as much sleep as I could possibly get, but I'm also able to take naps during the day."
Q: Do you have any pre-race superstitions that you must follow?
A: "I have a polka dotted sock, but it's so faded by now. It's disgusting, and it actually has two holes in the toe, but I love it! That goes on my left foot, and then I wear a plain yellow sock on my right. I may have to retire the socks soon because they're really, really nasty. I have the same pair of Brooks spikes that I used to always compete in every event with - high jump, long jump, sprinting - I would just use the one pair. They're my lucky spikes, so I couldn't get rid of them, but now Petros has said that I have to get rid of them. He wanted me to get completely new shoes, but I still have them hanging in my locker. I'm convinced they were magical spikes. They just never wore out. As far as food before races, I normally just like to eat a cinnamon raisin bagel."
Q: What are you planning to major in, and what career path would you like to follow beyond track & field?
A: "Right now my major is Communications, but that is subject to change. I'm not really sure what I want to do in the future, but I think being the spokesperson of a big company would be cool. Maybe I'd want to be a CEO? I'm just open to anything and everything at this point."
Q: What has been your most memorable race to this point?
A: "I think I would have to say my 100-meter hurdles race in the state championship meet this past year in high school. I loved that track, and my team was there and it was just such a high-energy place. It was my last time running in my Kell uniform, and it was a good race. I had a good start, finally, and I felt like I was running fast, but I didn't know that I was running as fast as it turned out to be. I felt like everything was good, and then I heard my dad yell. Whenever I hear him, I know that I ran a good time. Everybody was cheering and then I saw the time and couldn't believe it. It was 13.23, which is my personal best. I still can't even believe that I really ran that. It's so crazy."
Q: What's your mentality like during a hurdles race?
A: "Surprisingly, I'm counting my steps in my head. I count my steps for everything I do, whether it's high jump, long jump, 400-meter hurdles - everything! It's just natural for me to count."
Q: What are your favorite professional sports teams?
A: "I like watching all sports, but I don't have a super favorite team, except for UGA. The track team will get in the first three rows, and the girls will be in the very, very front because we get there so early. It's so much fun."
Q: How would you encourage young children to get involved in track & field? How can current track & field athletes help generate excitement for the sport among youth?
A: "It should first be explained to them that track is a journey. That's what my dad always told me when I was little, and now I see how much sense that makes. I know it's important to want to win, but when you're really young, don't train too hard because you have so many years in front of you. You have to keep it fun because if you're not having fun running track, you're probably going to be miserable because running isn't always something that people just automatically love to do. The key is finding ways to keep it fun because that's what helped me a lot. Don't make it a job too early."