There was a time when Derrick Atkins didn’t know if he was ready to compete in the international spotlight.
He didn’t know if the rewards that come with racing at the international level were worth being away from his girlfriend and daughter for months at a time. Atkins only knew he was prepared to hold his own against the fastest athletes on Earth.
“The emotional side of it, the mental approach, it takes a lot out of you,” Atkins said. “Midway in the season, I felt it. There was a point I had to take a break, regroup and come back.”
Atkins’ determination to compete at the highest level paid off significantly. He used the spring and summer of 2007 to cement his place as one of the world’s fastest men.
The Nassau, Bahamas, native capped his stunning 11-race summer with a silver medal in the 100-meter dash at the International Association of Athletic Federations World Championships in Osaka, Japan.
The seven-time Dickinson State national track and field champion is in town this week to take part in the school’s homecoming festivities. As a tribute to his recent accomplishments, DSU has made Atkins the honorary grand marshal of Saturday’s homecoming parade. He is also signing autographs at the Blue Hawks’ football game that afternoon.
Atkins plans to fly to the Bahamas next week for a national track and field team celebration before returning to Dickinson for at least another month to spend time with his girlfriend and daughter, Kayla and Jayden Kleinjan.
“That’s the sacrificing, not being able to be a full-time dad and being there,” Atkins said. “That played a role in my approach to this year as well. In the end, it all worked out. Sacrifices paid off.”
Atkins consistently placed himself in sprinting’s top tier this season, winning six races against the world’s best competition at meets in the United States, Europe and Asia.
He finished the year third in the IAAF world rankings and put himself in the company of worldrecord holder Asafa Powell and United States star Tyson Gay as one of the world’s foremost sprinters with his time of 9.91 seconds at the World Championships.
Despite wins against top competition, Atkins sneaked through his rookie season relatively unnoticed. The American media focused its attention on Gay, while the world’s eyes were locked on Powell. Atkins, meanwhile, is pleased he did not have to live up to the media hype thrust upon his competition.
“That’s the key, just focusing on the key things you need to do in your race and not worry about the outside, like the media, how are in the stands what somebody else is saying.”
Although Atkins was a self-proclaimed ‘new kid on the block’ this year, he will have a target on his back going into 2008.
While he has already run Olympicqualifying times, Atkins knows he must remain healthy if he wants to qualify for the Bahamas national team next summer.
“He’s got things in the right perspective right now,” DSU track and field coach Pete Stanton said. “That’s one of the big keys to success. He’s got the physical talent right now, but he’s got the maturity to get through the many things he’s going to see in the next couple years.”
While he’s technically on vacation, Atkins’ training for the Beijing Olympics is about to begin.
While in Dickinson, Atkins – who is sponsored by Adidas and trains at the University of Florida in Gainesville – plans to work out with DSU assistant football coach Pete Leno, who runs the school’s Frappier Acceleration Training program, just as he did when he was attending DSU.
Knowing he is helping contribute to Atkins’ success is an honor for Leno.
“It just shows what happens when you have the God-given ability Derrick has, combine that with his focus and intent, and you train smartly, that’s what can happen,” Leno said. “It’s fun to see him accomplish what he has. The fun part is that he’s earned it. He’s worked darn hard.”
With his eyes fixated on a shot at a gold medal in Beijing, Atkins is keeping his objectives for the upcoming year as simple as possible.
“Just staying healthy, staying focused and keeping that drive alive,” Atkins said. “… This year, I didn’t think it (winning a gold medal at the World Championships) was out of the question. My approach this year is going to be the same next year.”
Atkins plans to return to DSU in the future to finish his physical education teaching degree. While he has enough credits to graduate, he still must complete his student teaching. After that, he plans to become either a coach or a trainer while working toward a master’s degree in biomechanics.
“It’s just that right now, with track going the way it is, it’s time consuming and I really don’t have time for it (teaching),” Atkins said.
Atkins says attending school at DSU was one of the best experiences of his life, especially the camaraderie he felt while leading the Blue Hawks to national track and field championships in 2004 and 2005.
“It’s been a long journey,” Atkins said. “I feel everything happens for a reason; the reason I was here and stayed here all happened for a reason. Who knows what’s going to happen in the future and next year? It’s all a stepping stone.”