HE HAS ACCOMPLISHED so much on the biggest stages in a career still on the ascent, but Fred Kerley makes it clear that what he’s most proud of transcends the gold medal he won in the 100 in Eugene.
This is about life, where he has come from and where he’s headed, and above all, his aunt Virginia. He knew he made her proud Saturday and that may have meant more to him than his first individual major championship.
“She would think I did some great things,” Kerley says after his time of 9.86 led an American sweep of the medals. “I accomplished something, I put in the work. Coming from where I have come from [adopted with 13 children sleeping in one household] she will think I accomplished some great things today.”
Kerley is not a man of many words, but during his post-race press conference with Marvin Bracy-Williams and Trayvon Bromell, his story began to get out.
By the time he was 2, his father was in jail and his mother “took some wrong turns.” He and three older siblings were adopted by his aunt Virginia, now 66, and along with her children and a brother’s children she was also raising, there were 13 sleeping in one bedroom in the hardscrabble central Texas town of Taylor.
The number of children Virginia has now raised or is raising, including grandchildren and great nieces and nephews, is at 26.
“I think about her every day because if it wasn’t for her I probably would not be talking to you now,” Kerley says. “We had one bedroom, 13 of us in one bedroom, we were on a pallet. At the end of the day it was like in every other house, we all had fun, we enjoyed ourselves, and we’re doing great things right now.
“She actually sacrificed her life for me and my brothers and sisters and cousins.”
Kerley, who changed his last name to his aunt’s and has her nickname “Meme” tattooed on his arm, says that no-frills upbringing in Taylor drives him.
“Coming from where I come from, don’t be in the same predicament,” Kerley says. “Keep on accomplishing great things and you won’t be where you were when you were younger.”
Another aspect of his life that’s changed is he’s reconciled with his biological parents.
“I’m a grown man, I can have a relationship with my parents,” he explains. “They were not here tonight but I guarantee they were watching.”
Kerley has generally not been one to broadcast his story, but he knows he can be an example for others: Where you are born does not dictate where you end up. One of 13 stood by himself on the top of a podium, listening to the national anthem, on his sport’s biggest stage.
“I feel like everybody is a role model for somebody,” Kerley says. “I felt like for me, I’ve been a role model for a lot of people, going from junior college to Texas A&M, to be sponsored by Nike, to be on a podium from 2017 all the way to now. I feel like every day there are youths looking up to me, and if I can do it, they can do it.”
Kerley knows about looking up to people and using them as inspiration. His inspiration was watching from afar but “blowing up his phone” in his golden aftermath.
“I’m thankful for [Aunt Virginia] to put me in a position to win in life,” Kerley says, and on a magical night in Eugene, he won at track. ◻︎