Stuart Weir sent us this part 1/2 on Kendall Ellis. When one considers how amazingly talented US sport is in track & field, an athlete like Kendall Ellis.
12 questions to Kendall Ellis
In part one of a two part interview, Kendall Ellis talks about, early life, college, coronavirus and training
1. How did you get into track in the first place?
My mom says that I came home from school one day and was telling her I was so fast and was beating the boys and she said “OK, let’s do something with that” and she signed me up for track. I remember it more that I wanted to travel and the next thing I knew I was running track.
2. What was your first achievement?
I don’t think I realized for a while that I was good. I’d been running since I was seven but I don’t think it hit me until I was a junior at high school. That was the point where I started to take it seriously and realized that it could pay for college. At High School I won the state championship – my sophomore year and again my junior year. So at that point it was “OK, I’m good at this”.
3. In 2014 you ran 52.95 – very fast at that age?
Yes, but it wasn’t a big surprise. The previous year I had run 53.22 so I knew that running a 52 was possible. I remember saying to my coach, “OK what’s the workout because I want to run a 52? What do we need to do to get me there?” I was quite excited about it because Sanya Richards and I graduated from the same High School and she had the state record something like 52.25 and I wanted to get the record. I didn’t get the record but the time was under 53.
4. What would you see as your college highlight?
People expect me to say that 4 by 400 relay. I thought the 2018 relay was cool but it’s not my highlight because it didn’t mean that much to me personally. My biggest accomplishments – and something that made me feel I belonged among the professionals – were two moments. Firstly making the US team for the World Championships in 2017 and in the individual not just the relay. That made me think, “Whao, now I can go pro and get a contract. I really am a premier quarter miler now on the world stage”. Collegiately in my final year, breaking the American record indoors – 50.34. That was a big deal for me because previously I had been runner-up so now I thought it was time for me to come in and get the win. Winning was the aim but to get the collegiate record and the American record on top of that really was the highlight of my collegiate career.
5. The 2018 NCAA 4 by 400? You came from fifth place to win?
What else is there to say about it? I was not surprised. I expected to get the win. I didn’t think it would be so close. I wasn’t expecting not to catch her until the last second but when I was running, it was never in my mind that I was going to lose or that I couldn’t catch her. It was more “she doesn’t look that far ahead to me and I’m not tired. I can catch her”. This is my last race representing USC, last time running on this track and I am not going out as a loser”. I was thinking, this is me finishing up college and I refuse to lose!
6. Have you any religious faith?
I grew up in a Christian household. My parents were very involved in the church and my earliest memories are of being at the church. Being at church 2 or 3 times a week was just the norm. As I got older, I was able to choose for myself and see if that’s what I really believe or just something I grew up with. That is what I believe. I’ve stayed with it. I always feel that I was blessed with a gift, blessed with a talent which is to be used to honor Him and to be used to help other people, making whatever impact I can make doing something I enjoy. I have always been a believer and it plays a role in my career for sure. As I’ve said before, I struggle with my confidence and with believing that I’m a talented athlete and that I belong on the world stage and am capable of achieving great things. And it’s when I’m not sure how race is going to go or if I can make the team are not that I rely on my faith.
7. What are you like as a person?
I’m pretty boring! I’m back in school getting my MBA and taking classes for that. I really like Youtube a lot more than the average person. I can spend all day on Youtube, hour after hour. I did piano when I was younger and I bought myself a keyboard and am trying to teach myself that again.
8. You were a volunteer coach at one stage?
I volunteered for the AAU track club that I used to run for when I was younger. I was a volunteer coach for two years before I left for college. I love the babies, the 4, 5, 6 year-olds. At college I also volunteered at a boys’ club. That was cool because I love the sport and I love being part of it and around it. Track is my career so it causes me stress at times but when you work with kids, they are so innocent, wide eyed and excited about it all. They love it for what it is – running, being active and having fun. And sometimes I need to be reminded about how much fun I had with track when I was younger!
9. What is life like now in June 2020?
I’m based out of Los Angeles where things are opening up very slowly. Up until two weeks ago we had no access to the track and were training in parks, trails and other public spaces we were allowed to be in – a dirt path or a concrete hill. We were just making do with whatever we could. Now we have sort of got access to a track – very low key and not every day. So we’re definitely not back to what I would call proper training pre-corona. Training is still modified and also we’re not sure what this season will look like if there is one. But when and if there is a season, we will be ready for it. We’re not putting too much pressure on anything. Coach says this season is not about trying to run PRs but being smart and being safe and seeing how the year plays out. And being ready for next year.
10. Is it hard to stay motivated in training?
I hate to admit it but I’m very type A and I like to have a plan and to know what’s going to happen. I do not like being uncertain in any aspect of anything. So, for me it’s very difficult to come to practice every day and not know what we’re training for. Of course, it’s for the Olympics. That is still happening and that is in the forefront of my mind. But the Olympics are not as close as we were expecting them to be. So I’ve had to find a new motivation, and new things that will get me excited to go to practice and still do well. But that is easier said than done and some days it is going to be great with lots of energy, glad to be here, let’s get better. But other days are not going to be like that. Other days are going to be “let’s go home, I’d rather be in bed because I don’t understand the purpose of what we’re doing”. But I do have great training partners and we never all having a bad day. There is always one of us is having a good day and that person is a light to look to. That keeps us encouraged if we’re not having the greatest of days.
11. Who is in your training group?
I train with Michael Norman, Rai Benjamin, Candace Hill, who is a new addition this year and it’s great to have another girl in the group. I absolutely love them. It’s not often you get to train with people who are the best in their respective events and Candace being the prodigy that she is. Her strengths are the things I need to work on and it’s great to have someone to push me in those aspects. I like that our training group is small, just the four of us, so we get a lot of attention. The best part is that we all like each other. You can have training partners, and people you see every day but they’re just training partners but you don’t ever hang out or have fun with them. But we hang out together not because we have to but because we want to. It’s a very encouraging group of people. Like if I feel like having a break, Rai will be “Tokyo 2020 (2021 now). You have to make the team”. Michael is always by my side. Candace is very encouraging. It’s just a very uplifting group. We know what the standard is and that we can achieve it and we don’t let each other settle for less than we’re capable of achieving. Our coach is Quincy Watts and Caryl Smith Gilbert (Director of Track & Field) is also part of our group.
12. What was your reaction to Tokyo being postponed?
I figured it would happen. For a month before I was thinking they can’t have the Olympics. It’s not responsible and not realistic. When I had been expecting it for a while, but it’s different when you hear the official announcement. We were at practice and had just finished when we heard it. Coach told us and we were all “well, I guess that’s that. Not sure what we did that work out for, but OK”. I think it was the next day when it really hit us. We were having great practices and hitting times we hadn’t hit before. I suppose it was bittersweet. I understand why it had to be postponed. It was the right thing to do and the responsible thing and I agree with that. But it still hurts and it is still disappointing. Especially when you’ve been looking forward to it and working towards it for three years.
Interview June 2020