Overcoming obstacles

Contrast in culture doesn’t limit MU’s Nicholls in shot put
Wednesday, May 2, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:45 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It was the second longest throw of the day, an incredible showing in the strong winds gusting through the Missouri Relays.

Shernelle Nicholls stepped into the back end of the shot put circle, cradling the 8.8 pound shot put between her right palm and cheek. She stood at the back end of the circle and bent over, facing the small crowd gathered at Walton Outdoor stadium. She then lunged forward with her left leg, sliding her right foot along the gray concrete. She pushed her right arm up and forward with the entire strength of her body and propelled the steel ball 48 feet.

Nicholls is strong enough to overcome her lack of training. Her unorthodox style in the hammer and discus has been noticed by her teammates and coaches.

“She’s very unpolished in her technique,” throws coach Brett Halter said. “I just want to get her close enough (in terms of technique) to let the athlete come out.”

With Nicholls strength, it’s surprising that she didn’t begin her collegiate careerat Missouri. Nicholls had to make a stop at NAIA Missouri Baptist. Before that, she had to battle for three years, including a year after high school, to get a scholarship to the United States.

Nicholls grew up in a middle class family in Barbados, raised mainly by her mother Shirley Nicholls and members of her extended family. She has participated in track and field since elementary school. At 13, she stopped running track and picked up throwing.

One day in high school the seniors were practicing throws and asked Nicholls to try it out. One of the seniors encouraged Nicholls to continue throwing. She started throwing for the team and the high school coach asked Nicholls to join her track club.

Nicholls started performing in track meets throughout the Caribbean. She participated in the Caribbean games, and Carifta games. Nicholls said that the Carifta games, which is a competition between the islands in the Caribbean, is where she knew she wanted to continue with throws.

However, as Nicholls steadily improved, she wanted more exposure as an athlete, and she desperately wanted to get an athletic scholarship.

“Back at home there’s maybe three meets per year,” she said. “The main reason (I competed) was to get a scholarship. You can only go that far being on a small island. You just have a lot more facilities and competition (in the U.S.)”

Even though college recruiters made regular visits to the Carifta games, Nicholls was ignored. She even made a trip to the World Juniors competition and was still overlooked. She was disregarded, in part, because of the stereotype of Caribbean athlete as sprinters.

“It was hard to get a scholarship because mostly, at that time, it was sprinters getting scholarships,” Nicholls said. “They were producing more runners, so that was why Caribbean kids could actually compete in college.”

Nicholls also said that there are a limited amount of Barbadian throwers competing at a high level.

“Right now me and one other girl, we’re the two top throwers,” she said.

So Nicholls saw her senior year come and pass without getting a scholarship. Soon she was 19, and knew she had to step up on her throws. She continued to be frustrated by the lack of support from recruiters, and she had to start working to support herself while she went to school.

“I was frustrated enough to pick up another sport,” she said.

Finally, Nicholls was given a chance by Missouri Baptist Coach Vince Bingham and joined the Spartans in 2005. Despite Nicholls’ transition from the tropical climate of Barbados to the cold winters of St. Louis, she went on to become the NAIA outdoor champion in the shot put. Nicholls then competed one more year at Missouri Baptist and won the NAIA indoor championship in the shot put and was runner-up in the event during outdoor season.

At this time, both Bingham and the Barbados National Federation realized that Nicholls needed to join a more advanced program. So Bingham used his former experience as a Tiger coach to contact Halter. Nicholls proceeded to go on her recruiting trip with Lee and later transferred to Missouri. Nicholls said she made the change because it fitted her need for a quality nursing program. She had also competed against the Tigers and knew she would fit in.

“My first reason was academics because I wanted to pursue nursing,” she said. “I really wanted to push myself, further to do my best.”

Lee said that Nicholls has fit in with the Tigers because of her personality and because she shares the common goal of the team.

“We all share a common goal and we all want to be great athletes,” Lee said. “I saw her compete outdoors (at Missouri Baptist) and from that competition I knew that she’d fit in great.”

Two weekends ago, Nicholls became Barbados’ national record holder in the shot put and the hammer throw. She then came within two centimeters of making the mark in the discus, as well. This past weekend at Drake relays she added 20 feet to her personal record in the Hammer throw. Since she has joined Missouri’s track team she has been very successful. She qualified for NCAA Regionals in the hammer in her first outdoor meet, and performed well in the weight throw and shot put indoors as well.

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