Long Road, Lasting Legacy for Khadijah Suleman
May 9, 2016
By Brittanee Wallace, Ole Miss Athletics Media Relations
Khadijah Suleman's journey over the past four years has been filled with change and swift transitions. This standout athlete is coming into the final straightaway of her collegiate career, and her spikes are going to leave a lasting mark on the Ole Miss track & field program.
Suleman, a senior sprinter for the Rebels, says that when she left the sunny state of California and came to visit Ole Miss, she had no idea what to expect. She phoned a friend who was a student at the University of South Carolina and asked her about the Ole Miss campus.
Her friend encouraged her to go for a visit, and after that Suleman's bags were packed and she was headed to Oxford, Mississippi.
At that time, then-assistant coach Lena Bettis was recruiting Suleman and assigned her a host for her visit. She was paired with Marci Morman, a 2012 graduate who placed third in the triple jump at the SEC Championships. Morman showed Suleman the ins and outs of life as an Ole Miss Rebel.
The University of Texas and Ole Miss were battling on the gridiron the weekend of Suleman's visit.
"We lost, but I was pretty sold on the school," Suleman said.
"I had never seen anything like this," she added. "I loved the campus. I loved the facilities. (Then-head coach Brian) O'Neal told me all the opportunities I'd have, and how he would be able to make me a better athlete. By that time I just fell in love with this school, and I just felt that this was the school that I wanted to attend."
Prior to her arrival at Ole Miss, Suleman competed at Laney Community College in Oakland, California, under coach Curtis Taylor. While there, she managed to be named four-time California Junior College State Championships runner-up in the 100 meters (twice) and 200 meters (twice).
"It's been a really big transition," she stated. "You're always worried when you are going to have a new coach. Coming from a junior college and having such a great coach who is actually at the University of Oregon now, and then coming here I was kind of worried. I thought, `Am I going to reach my expectations? Am I going to do what everyone is expecting me to do?'"
She has had more than six different coaches during the course of her collegiate career and though she says it is a difficult adjustment, she has managed to produce great results for each one of them.
"You have to believe in yourself and stay positive, and know that if you are doing what you are supposed to do on your end, and if you trust in your coach then you're going to be able to perform well as an athlete no matter what," Suleman said.
First-year Ole Miss track & field head coach Connie Price-Smith agrees.
"One of my first meetings with her when I got here, she came in and told me what her goals were, and she has worked very hard to accomplish those and she's almost there" Price-Smith said.
The passion and drive that Suleman and Price-Smith alluded to are driving forces for what has allowed her to be such a strong competitor in the rigorous Southeastern Conference.
"It's really competitive, I'm not going to lie," she said. "You never know who you're running against, but I just try to clear my mind and remember that it's my individual race."
Last season, Suleman was named a USTFCCCA first team All-American after helping the Rebels' 4x100-meter relay to a seventh-place finish (44.64) at the program's first NCAA Championships final in the event. She helped the team qualify for nationals with a fifth-place result at the NCAA East Preliminary (43.89) and helped them to a school record with a time of 43.80 at the LSU Invitational.
Suleman, who currently ranks third in school history in the 100 meters (11.39) and fourth in the 200 meters (23.37), says that there is still hard work to be done by herself and the team.
Suleman's teammates look to her for guidance not only on the track, but also off the track. She seeks to extend the same helping hand that was extended to her when she was trying to get adjusted to life as an Ole Miss Rebel.
"I'll never forget it was my first year here and I was a junior and Fabia (McDonald) was a senior, and I said, `Oh my gosh I wish I could get one more year with you, your positivity is so awesome and it really inspires me and I wish that I had the traits that you had," Suleman recalled.
As a senior it is Suleman's responsibility to ready the team and warm them up for meets, keep track of her fellow teammates' class progression, and generally make it her duty to see that things are going well.
This spirit of paying it forward and being the type of mentor that McDonald was to her does not go unnoticed by Coach Price-Smith.
"She is dedicated to being an Ole Miss Rebel and to being good at it and she takes pride in being a good teammate to her teammates, especially the 4x1. Those are like her little babies," Price-Smith said with a smile.
Suleman and her Rebels will head to the SEC Outdoor Championships in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, this weekend where they will look to shatter records and put on a strong showing at what is widely considered the nation's best conference track meet.
May 14 is a monumental moment for Suleman off the track, as she will graduate from Ole Miss with a general studies degree and minors in journalism, psychology and African-American studies. She has been accepted into the University of San Francisco Sports Management program and is setting her sights on making the Nigerian Olympic Team for this summer's Rio Olympics.
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