Luling scholar finds passion on track, set for Jr. Olympics

At just 13 years of age, Luling’s Kevell Byrd appears to be one of those rare people who tends to excel at just about everything she tries.

Already a super-achiever in the classroom — Byrd was named regional student of the year and was one of five finalists for the state honor in 2014 during her time at Luling Elementary School — Byrd decided last year to try her hand in the athletic domain as well as when she began competing in track and field.

She’s a quick study on the track as well.

This week Byrd and her family traveled to Sacramento, Calif., to compete in the USA Track and Field National Junior Olympics, then will head to Houston, Texas, to do the same in the AAU Junior Olympic Games. Byrd qualified in the 400 meter and the 200 meter running events, qualifying with times of 59.22 and 26 seconds respectively, and will compete in the same events at both Junior Olympic events.

Byrd, who already has broken a middle school district record in the 100 meter event, set a goal to reach the Junior Olympics and record a time of under a minute in the 400 — her favorite event, she said. She’s already posted a sub-minute time, so now she’s set a new mark of 57 seconds that she hopes to hit in the coming days.

“I’m very proud to be reaching my goals,” Byrd said. “I really wanted to improve from last year and be successful as a track runner and I feel like I’m on my way.”

Byrd, who attends R.K. Smith Middle School, is advanced academically and clearing high school courses. The track, she says, was another way to challenge herself.

“I found a passion for it once I got out on the track,” she said. “I thought, ‘hey, I really like this.’ I wanted to see how far I could get into it.”

Though Byrd first made waves through her academic accomplishments, perhaps it should come as no surprise she’s shown this athletic acumen. Her father, Kevin, played football at Hahnville, while her mother, Shantrell, was a track and field star at the school.

In fact, Kevell will already see her family’s name up on a banner in the Hahnville gym, as Shantrell Byrd earned one of her own in track competition.

“We got married right after I graduated, so they put ‘Byrd’ up on the banner,” Shantrell said, before adding with a laugh, “I’m not sure if Kevell’s just out to break all of our records or what! Kevell’s unique and we just stand behind her 100 percent in whatever she wants to do.”

That said, while Shantrell said she and her husband are extremely proud of their daughter, they’re careful not to overly push Kevell, who is extremely self-motivated as it is.

“We make sure we expose her to all the areas she says she has an interest in,” Shantrell said. “If she says she’s interested in doing something new, we want to balance it and arrange our schedule to accommodate her. Kevell’s the focal point right now. We’ve lived our lives. We don’t want to live it through her, so we want to support her without pushing her.”

Byrd finds inspiration in her parents, and also in others: she recently wrote about Wilma Rudolph for a school assignment and learned about a woman who overcame much adversity to break records and compete at the Olympics several times – while running in the same events Byrd specializes in.

Inspiration was a word Byrd often came back to. She wants to make the world better for others, be it by her work — she currently has plans to become a pharmacist, through which she hopes to help people maintain and better their health  — or by leading through a positive example.

As one might expect, Byrd continues to set high goals for herself, hoping to one day compete in the summer Olympics herself.

“I want to show people that you can be academically and athletically inclined,” Byrd said. “You see Olympians and they all have such inspiring stories. It’s a dream so many people have.”

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