Kenisha Phillips knows she’s a far ways from home.
The separation from her twin brother, the culture and even the climate of the United States are constant reminders that Phillips is nearly 3,000 miles from her home in Georgetown, Guyana.
“I remember when I first came, it was like 7 p.m. in the evening and the sun was still up, and I was like ‘what?’” she said. “We don’t have that in Guyana, so I was surprised.”
Phillips began running as a kindergartner and can’t see herself stopping anytime soon. That’s why she feels right at home when stepping onto the brick red crumbs of any track, despite spending significant time away from her South American heritage.
“My parents, they’ve always been by my side to give me support,” she said. “They encourage me to follow my dreams, and they are very supportive. I just want to make them proud.”
She admits that the transition to the states was a difficult one at first but has since benefited her athletically. The sophomore’s outdoor season has been one for the record books: she shattered the school record 200-meter time at the Margaret Simmons Invite in late March. One week later, she bested her own record at the Hilltopper Relays.
Phillips has placed among the top two in the 200-meter dash in three competitions this spring and owns the event’s top four times in the APSU record books, all of which coming this season. Head coach Valerie Brown says that part of that success comes from her family’s support and a coachable spirit.
“Kenisha is able to excel from this because of her support system,” Brown said. “She’s a firm believer in God, and she keeps Him first. She continues to work hard, she remains coachable and she attacks every challenge that she’s faced with.
“I think that’s the difference, in my opinion, with a lot of international versus student-athletes from the states, is they come a little bit more humble. (They come with) a little bit more of a drive and a focus from their families back at home, because of the opportunity that the states provide to them.”
The Governors have not fielded an outdoor OVC Champion in the 200-meter dash since Joanne Arnold in 1979. Phillips was the conference champion for the indoor portion of last year’s event and could qualify for the NCAA East Preliminaries with another solid showing.
Last season’s outdoor track cancellation created a newfound focus for Phillips, whose ultimate goal is to compete in the NCAA National Championships in Eugene, Ore. From there, she hopes to follow in the footsteps of her idol, Usain Bolt, and represent Guyana in the upcoming Olympics.
Regardless of how she performs in the coming weeks, Brown desires for Phillips to view practices and competitions as a chance to further her abilities and as an escape from the difficulties that may come with playing far from home.
“I think I’ve been more focused on working hard,” Phillips said. “I’ve seen good improvement since I left my country and I came here. My time has been better, I would say I’ve seen improvement.”