A day in the life of an NCAA champion requires routine. Georgia junior Kendell Williams, a multi-event track and field athlete, typically starts hers by waking up at 7:40 a.m., eating a bagel and going to her first class at 9:05. She heads to the training room for rehab and treatment at 10:15.
This is when the fun begins. Williams wraps her sore left ankle in a Game Ready ice machine inside the Stegeman Coliseum training facility. She props her foot on the training table and relaxes. Two signs rest on the wall, both of which read: “NO COMPLAINING.”
One of the trainers forgets Williams’ name, despite the fact she’s won three SEC titles (2014 outdoor heptathlon and 2015-16 indoor pentathlons) and four NCAA titles (2014-2016 indoor pentathlons and 2014 outdoor heptathlon). She’ll be going after even more at the SEC championships Wednesday at Alabama, and again at the NCAA championships in June in Oregon.
After 16 minutes and 38 seconds, she takes off the Game Ready tube. No complaints. Some of the trainers joke about her being soft. She smiles, laughs, and heads toward the Rankin Smith Center, the student-athlete academic center. She stops at the locker room door and looks at her watch.
“I normally take a nap right now,” Williams said, “but I don’t want to leave you waiting around for 30 minutes.”
Williams misses her daily, 30-minute nap in the locker room before lunch. Two of her teammates, Shelby Ashe and Tatiana Gusin, says all she does in her free time is sleep. Meanwhile, Williams goes into the locker room for a couple minutes — when she exits, she points out how a few athletes were taking a nap in a luxury area she has to miss today.
She instead goes to the recovery room for treatment on her left ankle. She tells one of the trainers that she began feeling stiff after the high jump, the second of five pentathlon events, during the SEC Indoor Championships back in February. She won the pentathlon, but she’s had ankle problems since. She runs through the pain because she doesn’t think the ankle is serious enough for her to take time off.
Williams’ interest in track and field began when her father, Blane Williams, coached her and her older brother, multi-event athlete Devon Williams, when they were younger.
“I think [Devon] was eight, and I was seven at the time,” Kendell Williams said. “We were in Rome, Ga., for some travel baseball game. It was the Fourth of July and we didn’t have enough time to come home for the fireworks. The boys started racing. I decided that I wanted to race too, so I kicked my sandals off and outran them all except for my brother. After that, my parents were like, ‘We need to find somewhere for this this girl to run.’ Since then, that’s when Devon and I got signed up for track.”
“She was about 6,” Devon said. “It was only right that we come to the same school, run with each other, and compete alongside each other.”
Devon led his high school track team, the Kell Longhorns, to a AAAA state title his senior year, winning his third Gatorade Georgia Athlete of the Year along the way. The combined achievements between Devon and Kendell are endless. The two siblings competed alongside and supported each other their entire lives, and both ended up at UGA. Track and field coach Petros Kyprianou admits Devon played a key role in recruiting Kendell.
“Obviously getting the big brother helps in getting the little sister,” Kyprianou said. “Having him here made her recruitment easier I guess. However, she’s a high-level recruit coming out of high school, so everyone wanted to sign her. It helped our case having Devon here.”
Both Devon and Kyprianou can take credit for Kendell’s decision to sign with UGA.
11:30 a.m.: Lunch.
Williams goes to her second class at 12:20 p.m. From there, her schedule blurs together: a change of clothes (1:05), a 10-minute fire alarm at Stegeman Coliseum (1:15) a trip to the training room (1:45), and of course practice (2:15), which she often dreads. She walks to practice and laces up her track spikes for another day at the office. Still, no complaints.
After a warmup lap, a brief stretch, and a hug from Devon, she spends most of her practice working on the javelin throw, her weakest heptathlon event. She finished second behind former Bulldog Quintunya Chapman in the heptathlon at the Georgia Spec Towns Invitational just a few days prior. She scored 581 points in the javelin, 135 points lower than her second-weakest event from the weekend.
One javelin throw after another, the smile slowly vanishes from her face. Kyprianou pays close attention to detail, as the javelin throw is such a technical event. Williams admits she cannot rely on her pure strength to carry her through the event.
At that moment, possibly the nation’s greatest female amateur athlete showed her human side by admitting she has a weak point.
UGA won the Kendell Williams sweepstakes three years ago. Now, Williams is currently the back-to-back SEC indoor pentathlon champion, with three national indoor pentathlon titles under her belt. The soft-spoken athlete understands the importance of humility.
“It’s basically who I surround myself with,” Williams said, referring to her family and teammates. “And I think just knowing that there’s always someone better out there. You can’t relax. You can’t be cocky because the very next week, someone can come and better their score, which will be ahead of your score.”
Williams has a light day of practice (she usually finishes practice closer to 5 p.m.) and a doctor’s appointment at 3:30. The doctor, Kelly Ward, asks how she performed at the Spec Towns Invitational. She takes a deep breath and a moment to think about her answer. She looks as if she wanted to say, “I did OK.” Yolanda Lawrence, the assistant athletic trainer who accompanied Williams, intervened instead.
“She did good!” Lawrence immediately tells Ward. Everyone chuckles.
“Nothing too serious,” Ward said about Williams’ ankle. “But something we just want to keep an eye on.”
Training for seven events takes special attention to detail and a toll on the body, but Williams says Kyprianou gives each athlete a specific training schedule.
“Petros maps it out at the beginning of the year in terms of our peak cycles when he wants us to do our best,” Williams said. “We just came off of a meet (Spec Towns Invite) where I opened up with my heptathlon, so now we’re easing back into our hard training cycle. We just focus mainly on when we’re going to do our next heptathlon.”
Williams leaves the doctor and goes to get treatment on her hamstrings. This time she finds her brother lying on the same table she was on earlier with his foot propped up on the training table.
Kendell’s goal is always to improve. She still has the SEC Outdoor Championships this Thursday through Saturday, and the NCAA Outdoor Championships in June. She received runner up honors in both meets a year ago, and her main goal is to always do better than the previous season.
Her personal best of 6,223 points are enough to punch her ticket to the 2016 Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., in July. She won the pentathlon in the NCAA indoor championships in March and then went to Portland, Ore., for the IAAF World Indoor Championships, where she finished sixth with 4,586 points.
“I really just wanted to go for the experience and the exposure,” Williams said. “I knew it was going to be hard because I was just coming off of indoor NCAA’s, but it was really important for me to go and see the competition because that’s who I’m going to be competing against in the future, and I’m going to be seeing all those people at Olympic Trials.”
Every athlete dreams of competing on the world’s biggest stage.
“You watch it on TV every four years,” Kendell said with a bigger-than-normal smile on her face. “And you never think you can actually get to that point, so it’s cool that I actually have the standard. If I’m able to go to the Olympics, especially at 20 years old, being so young, that would be incredible.”
She rides a bus back to her dorm before back-to-back tutoring sessions at 6 and 7 p.m. “March Madness” by rap artist Future plays over the bus speakers. Williams says she does not listen to music often, but she does like Beyoncé and the current Future song playing in the background:
“…We ballin’ like the March Madness…/
I’m the one that’s living lavish/
Like I’m playing for the Mavericks…”
Williams followed her tutoring sessions with dinner, shower, and sleep. Her road to Rio continued the next morning starting with a bagel at breakfast.
This story was written by Damian C. Reynolds, of The Grady Sports Bureau, which is part of the sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.