From the pastures of Barbados to the national stage at Georgia, senior Michael Nicholls has overcome adversity to show he is among the best in the world at track and field.
“I’m from an island in the Caribbean called Barbados," Nicholls said. "Pretty simple place, we have pretty simple values. Very close-knit communities, everyone sorta looks out for each other."
Nicholls never had any idea growing up that he was going to end up a track and field star. He reminisces about the day where everything began. After school one day, Nicholls saw some people running around in the pasture near his building.
Feeling his inner competitiveness surface, Nicholls starting off sprinting in the fields. He found his way to hurdles shortly after.
Hurdles is one of the toughest events in the sport as the athletes must have tremendously sound technique. He credits an old coach with introducing him to the event he is now among the best in.
“My second high school coach brought up this thing called a form finder," Nicholls said. "Two poles with two strips of velcro. As people come out it gets smaller and smaller and I just kept being able to go through the little box.”
In his last two high school seasons, Nicholls ran ranking times of 13.6 and 13.7, putting him in the top 50 in the world.
Shortly after, he suffered an unfortunate hamstring injury while running the 100 meter and subsequently saw almost all of his collegiate suitors evaporate. Nobody had room to recruit an injured foreign track athlete that provided no guarantees, no matter how good they may be.
Despite being injured, Nicholls still possessed a passionate yet stable work ethic.
“Michael came in here last year and from the first day you could see the work he put in," fellow senior Denzel Comenentia said. "He really wants to be the best and he really works hard. You can just see it every day in practice that he doesn’t slack, he always gives 100 percent.”
Running out of options, Nicholls received a call from the head coach of a small collegiate program from the University of New Orleans. The offer consisted of a 95 percent scholarship with the opportunity to move up.
His initial reaction was “absolutely not,” but Nicholls was thankful for the people around him that convinced him to take the offer. He cited their intent on him considering his future when deciding on a school. With just one visit, he was set on attending.
Nicholls completed two successful seasons, including multiple school records, at New Orleans. He still credits his time in the smaller program with developing him into the athlete and person he is today.
Following his sophomore year, problems arose and the head coach that had been his primary recruiter exited the program.
After dialogue with his former coach, Nicholls was put in contact with Georgia and was floored by the skill and power of the athletes.
“I came on my visit and I saw Kendal [Williams] and Cejhae [Greene] run," Nicholls said. "Have you ever seen two 10, low 9 second guys run? It’s like the most fascinating thing you will ever see in your life.”
He admits Georgia is a different atmosphere than he is accustomed to. The bright lights and screaming fans are a change of pace from those wide open pastures in Barbados. Fortunately for Nicholls, the pressure only makes his competitive fire burn brighter.
The hurdles star expects big things for both himself and his team as the 2019 outdoor season progresses. He is hopeful to start off the year at or near his personal best and improve from there. A 13.3 or 13.2 set of finishes would certainly be the within reach.
After a full offseason of training and hard work, the time is now for the senior. Nicholls feels his work with the coaching staff on the technical parts of the sport has prepared him to be successful.
11 or 12 years ago, Nicholls never imagined he would be in this position but he is making the most of his opportunities and impressing everyone in his path.
Now, Nicholls can’t imagine doing anything but competing on the track.
“If track and field goes the way I want it to go, I’m going straight pro, that’s it. No questions about it,” Nicholls said. “As long as I am competitive, that is what I want to do.”