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EKU’s Quantasia Perry enjoying challenges, rewards of being a student-athlete and mom


(On July 27, 2018, Quantasia Perry gave birth to her daughter, Kali… less than 10 months later, she lined up to race for an Ohio Valley Conference gold medal)

Eastern Kentucky University’s Quantasia Perry stood in lane four and stared down the track. The redshirt freshman was 100 meters away from a gold medal at her first Ohio Valley Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

But it wasn’t going to be easy.

To her right, in lane five, was Murray State senior Tamdra Lawrence – the three-time defending OVC 100-meter champion. The day before, Perry (11.82 seconds) and Lawrence (11.88 seconds) ran the two fastest preliminary times at the meet.

EKU’s Quantasia Perry is one of the OVC’s top sprinters.

The 100-meter finals were destined to be a duel between the star and the upstart.

“Runners … take your mark,” the instructions echoed over the loudspeakers.

Perry kneeled to the wet track. The finals were going to be contested in the middle of a steady, mid-May rainstorm.

“Set!”

All eight sprinters came set in unison. There was a moment of calm … and then the crack of the gun. Perry exploded out of her blocks.

The race was on.

Two hundred and eighty six days before her showdown with Lawrence at the 2019 OVC Outdoor Championships, Perry gave birth to her daughter, Kali Mackenzie Perry.

She was a 19-year-old mom, 400 miles from her hometown of Covington, Georgia. It would have been easy to quit. Go home. Raise Kali with help from her family.

But Perry stayed at EKU. She was determined to be a student, an athlete, and a mom … all at once.

“I did my research,” Perry said. “And I started repeatedly emailing Melissa Gross, the director of the Eastern Scholar House Program. I got a spot there right after Kali was born, which was a blessing.”

The Eastern Scholar House Program opened in 2017. It prioritizes single parents who are in college by providing services like housing and onsite child care, as well as educational supports such as academic tutoring, financial literacy and employment assistance.

EKU’s Quantasia Perry and her daughter, Kali.

Perry didn’t stop there. She continued to seek out resources that would ensure a successful future for her and Kali.

She began visiting EKU’s Center for Student Parents, where she received acceptance and mentorship for life as a parenting college student.

With a support system in place, Perry was able to turn her attention back to track in the fall of 2018.

The Eastern Scholar House child development center opens at 7:30 a.m. and closes at 5:30 p.m., so Perry had 10 hours every day to get classes, work-study, weights and practice in.

Then she went home every night to be Kali’s mom. It was not the life of a normal college student, but Perry worked hard at it.

“Getting back in shape may have been the hardest thing – mentally and physically – that I have ever experienced,” she said. “That is when I thought about quitting. I’ve always been in shape. In high school, I played sports year-round, so my body never sat still for nine months like it did when I was pregnant. When I came back to the track, it was very difficult. It took me a while to even gain enough confidence to start practicing with my teammates again.”

Slowly, though, strides started to be made.

Perry finished 12th in the 60 meters at the 2019 OVC Indoor Championships in February, clocking a time of 7.76 seconds.

Outdoor season brought even more hope. At the Hilltopper Relays in early April, she ran sub-12 seconds in the 100 meters for the first time since high school (11.98 seconds).

Quantasia Perry continued to seek out resources that would ensure a successful future for her and her daughter, Kali.

Finally, Perry was starting to see in herself again the gifted athlete – the high school sprints star – that had earned a scholarship, and a right, to compete at the Division-I level.

It is said that raising a child takes a village. Perry has found that to be true.

Countless people have helped her navigate the challenges of being a college student-athlete and single mom … starting with her own mom, Linda Myrick.

When Perry has to travel overnight for a track meet, Myrick drives four hours from Covington, Georgia, to Knoxville, Tennessee, to meet her and take Kali for the weekend.
 
“Without her, this would not be possible for me to manage,” Perry said.

Then there’s her “second family” at EKU – Melissa Gross at the Eastern Scholar House; Robyn Moreland, Rose Penman, and Leslie Campbell at the Center for Student Parents; her coaches and all of her teammates.

“They have all mentored me,” Perry said. “They have all taught me things like balancing my schedule to simply being positive.”

And while it remains challenging, Perry is now starting to realize the rewards of being a college student-athlete and single mom.

“Being a mother and a student-athlete is challenging, but worth it,” she said. “The best part is knowing that you created this little human that’s running around, and the overwhelming love I have for her that simply just makes me happy.”

That love for Kali also motivates Perry to be a better sprinter.

“There will be days Kali has to come to practice with me,” she said. “Coach O (Sebek O’Jike Maat) will have her in one hand and be timing us with the other hand, and I’ll look up and she will be clapping or holding the stopwatch … and it pushes me, because I want her to proud of her mom.”

EKU’s Quantasia Perry holds Kali during an indoor track event.

Kali certainly would have been proud on May 13, 2019, the day Perry nearly dethroned one of the greatest sprinters in OVC history. Lawrence edged Perry at the line, defeating her by 0.03 seconds to become the first woman in OVC history to win four consecutive 100-meter gold medals.

But when Perry stepped to the podium to receive the silver … it was a victory for her, too. She had come so far in less than 10 months.

“Winning silver so soon was a heartfelt moment,” Perry said. “That’s when I really got my confidence back. I knew that I was on the road to reaching the success I had wanted before I got pregnant.”

Perry has big plans for the future. She wants to win OVC titles and race at the NCAA Championships. She wants to graduate with a degree in elementary education. She wants to open her own child care center.

And she wants Kali to know that she did all of that because of her, not despite her.

“I’ve always said I never want her to think she was a burden, but a key to my success.”

From Eastern Kentucky University

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