His chest is heaving. His head is so low to the ground he can catch the faint smell of rubber in the asphalt, but his eyes are locked straight ahead, seemingly fixated on the next eight seconds of his life. But he’ll tell you he isn’t thinking about anything at all—a trick his high school track coach taught him to do: just go blank.
He is still right up until the gun is fired. He explodes off the blocks becoming just a blur of the orange and green colored Under Armor he’s wearing, slowing down only slightly just before he leaps over the first hurdle. Then the second. Then the third. He knocks over two out of three, so he sets them back up and goes back to the blocks to try again, still catching his breath from the first run.
“He is one of those athletes that is, not once in a lifetime, but there are very few Cory Nelms’ in the world, and he’s everything I respect in an athlete,” Amy Deem, head of both men’s and women’s track and field at the University of Miami said about the only returning senior on the men’s side, Cory Nelms.
Nelms’ track career began in 2002 at Neptune High School in New Jersey almost by accident.
“I played football and basketball, but didn’t have anything to do in the spring, so the track coach approached me and told me to come out,” he said.
Nelms’ took care of the rest. He not only lettered three years as cornerback on the football team, but also had a season-best time of 7.40 seconds in the 55-meter hurdles at the 2006 Eastern States Championships and was named indoor and outdoor first team All Shore Conference as a senior.
Ever since he was 14, he knew Miami was where he wanted to be.
“I just became addicted to the attitude. You can’t be here and just be nobody, you have to strive,” Nelms said.
And he is anything but nobody- he holds the record of being the ACC 60-meter indoor hurdle champion in 2009 and All-ACC honors for his performances in 2008 and 2009.
“He’s one of those guys that’s always getting everyone pumped up, and when you see him out there competing and he’s winning, it makes you want to put in that extra effort also,” Brandon Harris, Nelms’ teammate in both track and football said.
That extra effort also went to football, his first love, during his four years as a Hurricane.
“When he first came here they told him he couldn’t play football,” Coach Deem said.
The 2009 season finally brought on a chance for Nelms to make a debut as a walk-on defensive back for the Hurricanes after being on the scout team for three years. He gained recognition early in the season for being the “one-hit wonder” that tackled Oklahoma’s returner Mossis Madu after the second-half kickoff.
“People recognized me,” Nelms said in an interview after the game.
His success is built on focus, hard work, and the ability to live and breathe sports like a necessity rather than an extracurricular.
“He’s that guy that is all about the University of Miami, so whatever he can do to make the U look good, he wants to do it,” Harris said.
Nelms, of course, couldn’t agree more.
“I just want to finish what I started in sports, and help bring the younger guys up so when I leave they can take my place,” he said.
Jenna Farmer may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.