“I have one thing to say to those non-believers: Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion!” Those famous words were spoken by Houston Rockets’s head coach Rudy Tomjanovich after the team won their second consecutive NBA Championship in 1995. Olympic medalist Kellie Wells knows all about this type of story, as she’s overcome tremendous obstacles throughout her life, only to emerge victorious in the end.
The Virginia native sat with ESPN’s Lisa Salters and spoke on a story that showed the true meaning of resilience. Wells detailed a story that involved everything from abuse, to the tragic loss of her mother, all before graduating high school. After listening to her compelling story, you fully understand the emotions she displayed after crossing the finish line as an Olympic Medalist in the 2012 summer games. The courageously inspiring star sat with EBONY and spoke on her triumphant journey, her unyielding pursuit of her dreams, and how she plans on taking over the world!
EBONY: Take me from the point that you’re about to line up on the blocks to race in the 100m hurdles, to the podium when you received your medal.
Kellie Wells: Right before the final, there were no nerves. I was very excited and elated to be a finalist. I knew I’d be getting a medal, but I wasn’t sure which color it’d be. I was hoping for the Gold, but I knew nothing was going to stop me from getting on that podium. I just remember looking up at the crowd and thinking, “Wow all these people are here to watch me, so I better put on a good show.” After the race, I’ve never felt that type of excitement from a crowd in my life! It was like 90,000 people cheering for…you know, me! People were asking me to take pictures with their babies, telling me they love me…it was just amazing. When the guy put the medal around my neck, the crowd went crazy! It was everything I thought it’d be, times a million!
EBONY: You and Dawn [Harper] are pretty close and share equally inspiring stories as far as injuries go. How did it feel to stand on that podium and receive a medal alongside your friend?
KW: It felt good because she was the defending Olympic champion, and as much of competitors as we are, we all pray and pull for each other. We all wanna see everyone remain healthy and come out of each race intact. To stand beside someone so decorated and to know that I’m now of the same caliber as her and all the other great hurdlers that has come before me was such an honor!
EBONY: What inspired you to get into Track & Field?
KW: It started with my older sister, who is six years older than me. I used to follow behind her and always being in the way of her track practices, but then I turned out to be good. I remember the boys in the neighborhood would taunt me because I wanted to play football with them, and they wouldn’t let me. They’d say “You’re not as strong as us. You’re not as fast as us,” and they’d never pick me, and I LOVE playing football! So one day, I told one of the guys to race me and if I beat him, he had to let me play on his team. I ended up beating him, and afterwards all the guys wanted me as their running back or wide receiver. It became a love of competition from then on.
Once I started watching the Olympics, I fell in love with Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Gail Devers. I’m actually honored and blessed enough to have them as my mentors now. I’m very close with both of them, and it’s a great feeling to know that I had them on my side for the Olympics.
EBONY: Considering everything that you’ve gone through to get to this point, how have you been able to persevere?
KW: Running was always the easy part, because it was my escape. It was my solace; where things weren’t crazy. I used it as my motivation. I know that I have to be successful to show young girls that even though you’ve gone through something, you can be good at whatever you strive for. That’s why I share my story. I want to show them that they can be whoever they want to be.
I knew that once my mom passed, that I was going to have to provide for myself. I’m smart and have my degree from college, but I was blessed with a gift. I knew that this was going to be my way out and my way to avoid struggling throughout life. I have an older sister and younger brother, and we’ve all managed to make great livings for ourselves. We’ve all gone through our trials and tribulations, but we’ve all managed to turn the bad things into good things.
EBONY: Since you’re a big-time Olympic star now, what’s next for Kellie Wells?
KW: Well I’m trying to take over the world, but… [Laughs], outside of that I’m back to training. We have World Championships coming up in August. They’ll be in Moscow, Russia. It’s just like the Olympics but it’s a better payday and the focus is only track. I want to keep trying to change lives, but also show people that there are more sides to Kellie other than track and tragedy.
I’d also love to get into commentating and hosting, as well as fashion. I love how designers think outside of the box. I’ve put some thought into starting a line, but I don’t want to spread myself too thin. I know it takes a lot of time, but I’m actually trying to get my foundation up and running. I’m currently getting a team in place and once that’s up and running, I can get into some other ventures. This is just something that’s very important to me, because I do wanna help change people and show them what self-worth and self-love, is about.
Steve Rivers has contributed to The Source, ESPN Rise and a host of other online publications. Follow him on Twitter: @TheKidSkoob.