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This weekend's track and field meet is named in honor of Rodriq McCravy, a former UK track athlete. McCravy, who quickly established himself as a leader with great respect and care for others, died in 1987 at age 19.
McCravy was just a sophomore, but he had already made a lasting impact on his teammates, coaches and the UK administration.
"He was such a great guy and an extremely well-liked member of our team," former UK track and field head coach Don Weber said. "He contributed in so many ways other than what he did on the track. He was really a unique person in that regard.
"The thing that really stands out was how universally, everyone had such a high regard for Rod. I've had a lot of great kids over the years, but I don't know if we've had anybody that everybody thought of him that way. It was people on and off the track team. He was an exceptionally unique person."
This weekend's Rod McCravy Memorial Meet, which was first held the year after McCravy died, extends his legacy and continues to teach others about what made him so special.
"He was a fabulous person," Weber said. "This is an opportunity to recognize Rod and also an opportunity to, each year, talk about Rod with the team. We talked about his qualities, and his impact and contributions to the team."
A graduate of Louisville Trinity High School, McCravy was a two-time state champion. Upon his arrival at UK, he set the freshman record in the 400-meter hurdles, finished sixth in the TAC National Junior Championships and was a member of the school-record 1,600-meter relay team.
Along with his actions away from the track, Weber remembers McCravy's demeanor as being just as positive on the track.
"He didn't have a negative attitude, in that 'They're defeating me.' " Weber said. "It was, 'They're helping me run faster and I have to do my best to run with them.' That, in a strictly athletic sense, Rod's story helped us, but also stressing the importance of all the qualities that Rod had and how those are important."
McCravy made a great first impression on Weber, who immediately saw something special in the high-school student during his recruiting visit to campus. McCravy was planning on competing for the Blue and White as a walk-on.
Instead, McCravy earned a scholarship based off his work ethic, attitude and leadership qualities. Weber knew he would make an impact not only on the track, but away from it as well.
"He came and visited," Weber said of McCravy's recruiting trip. 'We did not have any intentions of giving him a scholarship. I met with him and his dad in my office. His dad didn't say anything, he and I just talked. Over the course of our conversation, Rod impressed me so much with his leadership skills, him as a person that we ended up offering him a scholarship, mainly because of him as a person. That was the first non-athletic, 'people' scholarship that we gave out."
Now, 26 years later, the Rod McCravy Memorial Meet -- this year designated as the weekend's "best meet in the nation" by the United States Track Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) featuring perennial powers Oregon and Florida -- lives on, and so does McCravy's legacy. Current student-athletes and the coaching staff didn't know McCravy, but he continues to have an impact on the team and the track and field program. His influence lives on, even as the people he directly impacted move on.
This weekend as some of the nation's best track and field athletes compete at the Nutter Field House, McCravy will be remembered.
The UK track and field team was just a few months into head coach Edrick Floreal's first year in charge of the program and much of the team had not yet adjusted to the concepts the new staff was trying to instill.
Parker -- who experienced mixed results on the track in her first two years in Lexington and struggled to find a signature event, even trying her hand in the grueling pentathlon and heptathlon -- for her part was one of the first Wildcats to buy into the novel "Floreal" ethos.
With the Wildcats riding back from Nebraska's indoor track after a meet performance below the team's expectations, certain team members were acting as though they weren't upset about the lackluster results.
Parker, knowing the coaching staff would not take kindly to seeing the team in such good spirits after competing so poorly, stood up in front of her teammates to voice her disapproval.
"It seemed like people didn't care, and it kind of frustrated me," Parker said. "People were nonchalant. We just lost, why are you still laughing and joking? That was when I stood up and said something. Usually I talk to people individually, but that day was different. I can't repeat what I said on the bus, but I think the team got the message."
Word of Parker's talk with the team certainly got around and her head coach took notice, seeing the intervention as an initial turning point in the UK track and field culture.
"If we're going to win anything as a team the athletes have to be the ones who take ownership," Floreal said. "Kayla was one of the first people to do that. She took ownership on that bus. I was riding separate from the team, but later I heard Kayla had said something to the team and some team members were worried at how much the meet had affected her.
"My reaction was the opposite; I thought, this is perfect. We're starting to get people who think of it as 'my team.' She was making sure there was accountability."
Parker's sense of accountability translated into results shortly after her speech, as she began running head-turning times in the 100-meter hurdles.
Whereas in 2012, she failed to even make the final at the Southeastern Conference Championships, she finished fourth overall in 2013. Then she qualified for the NCAA Championships and broke a decade-old school record.
She has continued to wow early this season as Parker ran the nation's second-fastest 60-meter hurdles time last month, 8.24, breaking another school record in the process.
Parker attributes her success to buying into her coach's philosophies and moreover, holding herself accountable to the same standards she asks of her teammates.
The team's new standards were difficult to adjust to at first, and could explain why it took until the 2013 outdoor season before the hard work really started to pay off.
And the team has bought in too. Led by Parker, the UK women's team is ranked No. 6 in the preseason poll, released Monday.
"It was just too easy not to do everything in your power to get better before," Parker said. "Now we know the coaches' expectations are higher, and in turn our teammates expect more of each other too. You notice the difference in training, but also off the track. Everyone is just committed to the cause."
Parker led the way in changing her attitude toward the sport and competition. Kentucky's recent influx of talent into the program has only hastened the rest of the team's shift in outlook.
UK's ascent to national contender status, due in large part to Parker's emergence and a 2013 recruiting class ranked No. 5 nationally by "Track and Field News," has brought a level of competition to practice sessions previously unseen.
Parker certainly was challenged in training by teammates like transfer Kendra Harrison -- a seven-time All-American and six-time Atlantic Coast Conference Champion -- which seems to have translated into results given her top-class start to the season.
"As coaches we try to explain to the kids the things they need to do to be successful, but you can never fully impart that wisdom just by talking," Floreal said. "When you have members of the team that have been to the highest level the rest of the team gets a glimpse and that work ethic rubs off. That is important as you try to build a winning culture.
Like her coach, Parker knows preseason rankings do not make a successful year a given. Plenty of work -- as well as speeches to the team, should they be necessary -- remains.
"It's just the beginning," said Floreal of the strides his team has made in the past year, largely because of the steps Parker and other have taken to improve. "We're not there yet. Things like preseason rankings are small steps, but we have to put in the work to perform when in counts."
An initial test of how the many dividends the the team's hard work will yield comes this weekend when UK hosts the Kentucky Invitational at the Nutter Field House.
This spring, Chelsea Oswald of UK track and field/cross country won the Southeastern Conference's prestigious H. Boyd McWhorter Scholarship for her outstanding academic record. Now, she's featured in a public service announcement you'll likely be seeing often as you watch SEC football games this fall. Take a look.
Even before the 2013 fall collegiate athletics season gets under way later this month, the wait is over for Kentucky fans ready for live sports action featuring Wildcats. The IAAF World Championships begin in the Russian capital on Saturday and UK will be well represented.
Current volunteer assistant coach and two-time Olympian Arantxa King will jump among the world's best athletes inside Luzhniki Stadium. In addition to King, three former Wildcats are also entered in the biennial track and field meet.
King will jump in Group B of the qualifying round, which gets begins at 11:20 a.m. ET. Select events will likely be broadcast on a delayed basis on NBC from 3:30 to 5 p.m.
King, a Stanford alumna who serves as a volunteer assistant coach at UK working with the jumps and sprints groups, will compete for Bermuda. She is coached by UK head coach Edrick Floreal, himself a former Olympian and World Championships competitor.
King boasts a broad array of major championship experience having competed in the past two Olympic Games despite just having finished her decorated NCAA career in 2012.
She missed the 2012 Olympic long jump final last year in London by one spot and less than a centimeter on a tiebreaking procedure. King's top mark from three qualifying round attempts of 6.4 meters (just under 21 feet) tied her with Veronika Shutkova for the 12th and final spot in the final, but the Belarusian's second-best mark of 6.21 was 0.01 centimeters better than Kings'.
King is coming off a silver medal at the 2013 Central America and Caribbean [CAC] Championships in Mexico last month. King owns an all-time personal-best long jump of 6.57m and a wind-legal best of 6.5m. Her 2013 seasonal-best is 6.45m.
The Boston area native comes from a family of top-class athletes. King's father Adrian is one of the best cricket players in Bermuda history. He represented the Bermuda national team as its top fast bowler and Arantxa's mother Branwen Smith-King also represented her country as a Pan-Am games level thrower.
Should King advance, the women's long jump world championship final is scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 11 at 11 a.m.
Former Wildcats Descend on Moscow
A number of former Wildcat athletes will also be competing over the course of the World Championships, which run from August 10-18.
Mikel Thomas, who won the Trinidad and Tobago National Championship in June, will represent his nation in the 110m hurdles. Thomas' fellow former Wildcat and countryman Rondel Sorrillo will also represent T&T in the 100m and 4x100m relay.
Jenna Martin will compete for Canada as part of the 4x400m relay pool. Martin was slowed by a hip injury for much of the season and did not qualify for Canada in the 400m.
Following a loss in confidence resulting from a hamstring injury at the Southeastern Conference Championships, Hayes got a phone call from an even more decorated athlete: the 1992 Olympic Silver Medalist in the 100-meter hurdles. That former world-class hurdler also happened to be the wife of Hayes' head coach, LaVonna Floreal.
That drop in self-belief was quickly dispensed with after Hayes received a stern talking-to, which included that threat.
The sprint hurdler sent off a string of tweets shortly after he suffered the injury expressing disappointment about missing two SEC finals and doubting his prospects for recovering in time for the NCAA Outdoor Championships, which were just two weeks away.
Soon after seeing those tweets LaVonna Floreal gave Hayes a call.
"After the setback at SECs we had a good talk and to be honest my wife actually called him," UK coach Edrick Floreal said. "She told him, 'I'm an Olympic Silver Medalist and if you ever do that again I will personally kick your butt. You don't that, I don't care if your leg is broken and blood is pouring out of it.' "
That conversation was apparently just what Hayes needed as the senior ended up clocking a season-best time in one of track and field's most grueling events, the 400m hurdles, just 11 days later. He then qualified for the NCAA Semifinals with another season-best time in the 110m hurdles two days after that.
Hayes would go on to reach his first NCAA Outdoor Championship Final in the 110m hurdles where he finished fourth, but his road to All-America status was filled with even higher obstacles than the 42-inch barriers on the track.
Indeed Hayes enjoyed perhaps the best hurdles season, and by extension career, in UK track and field history in 2013. He was All-American in the 60m hurdles indoors setting the school record in the process before he broke the UK 110m hurdles record at the NCAA Championships.
Hayes lowered that all-conditions record to 13.30 seconds last weekend at the United States Track and Field Championships where he ran alongside the world-record holder and 2012 Olympic Gold and Silver Medalists, among others.
Performing on the biggest stage
After what Hayes himself would admit was a difficult indoor season, he came through when the pressure was greatest time and again.
Entering the last weekend of the indoor season Hayes had yet to produce one of the national top-16 times required to earn a spot at the NCAA Championships in the 60m hurdles. Yet Hayes was undeterred competing with one last chance to qualify for NCAAs.
He showed as much when he broke two-time Olympian Mikel Thomas' 60m hurdles record during the semifinal heat to post the nation's No. 9 time and make the NCAA Indoor Championship field.
At NCAAs, Hayes lowered his personal-best time to 7.69 in the semifinal and then picked up First-Team All-America status in the final.
He also displayed just how much doing well for the team meant to him as he was the UK men's team's only participant at the NCAA Indoor Championships. He ensured the Wildcats didn't get shut out at the National Championships with a top-eight finish to get UK on the team scoreboard.
Indeed Hayes' indoor performance prompted his head coach to call him a "one-man team" in a plea for more Wildcats to perform at the NCAA Championship level.
Producing top performances on the biggest stage - in fact record-breaking ones - when the pressure was greatest became a trend for Hayes.
"The cool thing about Keith is the more the tension rises the more he focuses," Floreal said. "Some people lose sight of what's important when the tension rises. That's the difference between the great ones and the other ones. In the heat of the moment they still stay true to the process. In the end if they can just repeat to themselves the things they've done and how confident and ready they are they'll be fine."
He went on to break another of Thomas' school records, this time outdoors in the 110m hurdles, as he ran 13.32 to reach the NCAA Championship final. Perhaps even more impressive was the fact that Hayes had run season-best times in two events at the NCAA Preliminary Rounds, less than two weeks after suffering an injury that often lingers with sprinters for weeks if not months.
"Breaking Mikel's records meant a lot to me because I know what an impressive career he has had," Hayes said. "I really enjoyed training with him during my first season at UK. He texted me congratulations after I got the 60m hurdles record. We still have a great relationship. It means a lot when you get a record that belonged to someone who has been to two Olympic Games."
Reaching new heights under Floreal
While Hayes had enjoyed an impressive career before his senior season - he was a three-time All-American going into 2013 - he reached a new level of success in Floreal's first year at the helm of the UK program.
Hayes drastically improved in 2013, but making the adjustment to a new coach didn't happen overnight.
"I had to buy in," Hayes said. "I didn't do it smoothly at first because I second-guessed myself coming off injury having redshirted last year on my mind, but it came together."
When Floreal began coaching Hayes, the first step was finding the best way to communicate with one of the team's only athletes with All-America credentials. In Hayes, Floreal inherited an accomplished athlete coming off a foot injury that kept him out for the entire 2012 season.
Floreal is happy to admit that one of the biggest challenges in coaching hurdlers is striking the right balance between working on technical race elements and encouraging athletes to relax so they don't stress about executing the technical aspects of a race.
Striking the right chord in Hayes' training proved to be a unique challenge for the UK coach.
"There are some adjustments you have to make," Floreal said. "The hurdles are so complicated that you have to make some changes. Some athletes require the information, but others require the confidence and the information is not that important.
"When you come in and look at what he's accomplished you're like that guy needs a lot of information, we've got to get him technically sound. Then we realized we just needed to give him confidence and when we did that you started to see the results."
Perhaps the greatest example of Floreal's coaching choice paying off was Hayes' school record during the final regular-season meet indoors.
Floreal in fact did not travel with Hayes to Virginia Tech, instead having assistant coach Roderick Dotts make the trip alongside the veteran hurdler.
"It was one of those things where me and Coach Flo had a conversation and decided I may have been struggling because I was overthinking it," Hayes said. "I needed to be more comfortable. He sent Coach Dotts with me to chill and have fun with it. We did everything under the sun to try not to think about that race."
While Floreal stayed in Lexington as his hurdler was off getting ready to run a personal-best time and book a spot in the NCAA Championship field, the two did remain in contact.
"By that point in the season he just had to figure it out for himself," Floreal said about his leap of faith. "We texted back and forth that whole day where he'd tell me he just finished his warm-up, how he was feeling good and I just said 'great.' There was nothing I could do except nod my head.
"If I would've gone with him to that last-chance meet I would have just been a crutch. My not being there helped him kind of figure things out."
Hayes earned a great deal of his coach's trust that weekend in Blacksburg, and he cashed it in at the Heart of the Bluegrass Classic, Kentucky's first home outdoor meet since 1997.
On top of being the first outdoor competition in Lexington in 16 years, the UK track and field program also celebrated Senior Day for the first time ever.
Given the novelty of the day, Hayes wanted to perform for the home fans as much as he could. As such, he asked Floreal to enter him in four events, despite the fact that one of the season's biggest meets, the Penn Relays, was just a week away.
That level of trust has certainly paid off in 2013.
"It's become more of a father-son relationship," Hayes said. "He has expectations of me, but he doesn't always have to tell me. He will tell me 'you know what to do, right?' That comes with being a senior.
"It's really good to know when he's confident in me. Before he used to be very technical with me, but he realized I think a lot when I'm training and racing. I've been running four events every weekend and I like it. I love to compete especially when I can hear my teammates cheering me on."
Hurdles along the journey
Despite all his success in 2013, many goals remain unmet.
By all accounts - in terms of reaching goals - he came up just short of a major one this past weekend at the USA Championships where he placed 16th overall in arguably the world's deepest National Championship fields.
The senior finished second in his USA Championship prelim heat, ahead of the aforementioned defending World Champion and 2012 Olympic Silver Medalist Jason Richardson to reach the semifinal as the fifth-fastest qualifier.
Races with U.S. World Championship team berths on the line are not decided in the prelims, however. Hayes learned that the hard way at his first major race competing head-to-head with world-class professionals.
He was unluckily drawn into a stacked semifinal heat, which featured Richardson, World Record-holder and reigning Olympic Gold Medalist Aries Merritt and former American Record-Holder David Oliver.
Hayes got out of the blocks about as well as any of the top professionals and was right there with all three midway through the semifinal race before he began hitting hurdles, and eventually did not finish.
The disappointing result left the Wildcat alumnus looking for more in future races and seasons.
Despite the tough end to his UK career, LaVonna Floreal offered up some more advice at the first sign of Hayes venting via Twitter on Sunday evening. Floreal (@SilverMedal2) told her talented protégé (@HurdlingYoMamma) he was just beginning his "hurdling" journey.
Indeed the next step in that journey remains to be taken, but given the trajectory of his career in recent months the future certainly looks bright.
Last week in Sandestin, Fla., UK's Megan Moir (women's golf) and Chelsea Oswald (track and field/cross country) were recognized at the Southeastern Conference's Spring Meetings.The two videos below were shown before Moir accepted the SEC's Brad Davis SEC Female Community Service Leader of the Year and H. Boyd McWhorter Scholar-Athlete of the Year awards. Take a look.