From high school celebrity, to collegiate inspiration.
Beating the competition
by 30 yards in the 100-meter dash is something Southern Methodist University track
star Stephanie Kalu accomplishes as easily as some finish their morning bowl of
SMU teammate Courtney Madden, a former runner at Dallas’ St. Pius X Catholic School, knew of Kalu when she ran track for Ursuline Academy of Dallas. Madden recalls congratulating Kalu on her stellar performance at the state meet their senior year of high school-the same meet Kalu succeeded in winning the 100-meter dash by 30 yards.
“That’s unheard of in a race that short,” said Madden. “Not only all of the private schools, but the public schools, too, knew who Steph was.”
Even then, Kalu, now a Junior at SMU studying to a doctor, was a top athlete. However, Kalu attributes her success to more than talent alone.
“Sometimes I sit down, and think how am I doing this? I think it’s the grace of God,” Kalu said.
Her voice was full of confidence and passion as she pulled up a stool at the neighborhood Starbucks one recent afternoon. Born and raised in Dallas, Texas alongside two brothers, Kalu said that without any sisters she had no choice but to be competitive.
“I was always the speedster.”
In her senior year of high school Kalu placed first in every 100-meter and 200-meter race she competed in. A Three-Time State Champion, Kalu also holds the record in the 5A TAPPS 100-meter dash and was named 2011’s 5A TAPPS Female Athlete of the Year. Throughout her time at SMU Kalu has claimed an individual title, set a personal-record time of 23.94 seconds in the 200-meter dash , and has earned two consecutive AAC Athlete-of-the-Week awards for her stellar performances at the Vanderbilt Indoor Invitational and the Masked Rider Invitational. What’s more, in the recent TCU invitational, Kalu set the SMU record in the 100-meter dash with a time of 11.38 seconds.
Kalu’s coach, Tony Miller, recognizes that although she is one of the most talented sprinters he has ever coached, Kalu brings something else to the table.
“She brings passion to the SMU sprint team that I’ve never seen before.”
Kalu’s track and field career began in 5th grade when others took note of her natural ability to run, well, fast.
“People just said she needs to run track, and I fell in love with it.”
Today, Kalu incorporates her competitive nature into her favorite track and field event, the 4×100 relay. Although she confesses to having done away with most superstitious rituals, there are a couple necessities she cannot seem to shake.
“I always have to have black socks, and I always have to have earrings,” Kalu said.
While she has high aspirations to run professionally, Kalu is also an Applied Physiology and Sports Management student, studying Pre-Med at SMU.
“I know I’m not going to run forever, so eventually I want go to med-school. Hopefully I can go to USC or UCLA. That’s my dream,” she said.
When Kalu is not on the field she can be found with her nose buried in a book. However, juggling a heavy academic course load, training sessions, daily practices, and travelling for out-of-town meets is not easy.
“I just had a test proctored when we were coming back from New York on the plane, and I’m scared of flying. I was holding my teammates hand and had a pencil in my other hand,” she said.
Although balancing her responsibilities is trying at times, Kalu would not have it any other way.
“This is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” she said, eyes wide and smile even wider.
Kalu finds comfort in knowing that each of her teammates is so full of life and even with all her athletic success, she has remained a team player at heart.
“We all have really unique personalities. Every single girl on this team is just full of life and I’ve never really been around that in one setting, so that’s helped me grow, that’s helped them grow,” she said. “They are the reason I’m here at SMU.”
Stephanie “makes up a big part of the team, she’s driven, and works hard to be as good of an athlete as she is,” said Madden.
As with any sport, it certainly helps to be gifted but Madden agrees that its takes an even greater amount of heart, and that’s what Kalu has.
In one of the team’s most recent meets, the American Athletics Conference, Kalu won the 60- meter sprint – an accomplishment Coach Miller regards as a serious turning point for Kalu.
“She really grew up in the conference meet. I think as her confidence grows there’s no telling what she can do. The sky is the limit. ”