by Fred Kerley

Without her, I probably wouldn’t be here right now. I definitely wouldn’t be a world-class athlete, and who knows where I might have ended up in life.

Aunt Virginia – the woman who raised me. The woman who made me who I am.  

I was two when I first moved in with her, a toddler who didn’t know what was happening around him. My Dad ended up in jail, my Mom took wrong turns in life, which meant Aunt Virginia was the only one who could take care of me and my four siblings.

Meme – as she is better known – brought up her kids, her brother’s kids and us, with 13 children all living under the same roof. She also brought up the two or three generations after me, and she’s still raising them now – 25 children in total.

An amazing woman, with the best personality you could ever have. Kind and caring, tough but fair.

She loves kids, loves family, and was always very disciplined, her and my uncle, something they drilled into us very early in life. With all that came after, as I starting making an impact in high school football and track, that was so important.  

We practically grew up in church. Every Wednesday, every Sunday, we were going to church no matter what. After football practice, after basketball practice, we were in the church the very next hour.

Even today, religion means so much to me. I don’t pray a specific prayer because there’s nothing in the world God hasn’t given to me already, but I just ask Him to give me strength every day, to keep on pushing.

Fred Kerley at the 2017 IAAF World Championships (Getty Images)

The way my aunt always did, the way she always does.

I grew up in Taylor, Texas, a small city about 30 minutes outside of Austin. During my teenage years, I saw so many others fall off the right track in life – including some of my closest friends, even my family.

I’ve seen so many gifted teenagers who just never got out of home. Even today I see them on Facebook, Instagram, and remember the talent they had in high school. They were great at sports but all of a sudden, once high school came to an end, they ended up back doing what their older siblings were doing.

The difference for me was my mindset. From an early age, I said I can’t do that, can’t end up like them. I didn’t want my future to stay in one place. I wanted to get an education and travel all over the world and just keep on going.

Track and field was the sport that allowed me to do that, and my aunt was the one who helped me forge that path.

Fred Kerley at practice (Fred Kerley)

Before I focused on track I thought I would do football and basketball but I broke my collarbone in my senior year of high school in our last playoff game. From then on, I was a sprinter.

That same year, I got my aunt’s nickname – Meme – tattooed on my arm, so she’d always be with me.

Where I come from, everybody gets tattoos. I had my first when I was 12, which I didn’t tell my aunt about until much later. It was a scripture verse, Psalm 104, and I got it as a birthday gift. It was a street tattoo, which you could get for about $200 compared to $1000 at a tattoo shop.

Once you get your first one, you start getting addicted, and today I have more than 10 tattoos. I have one of the Virgin Mary, one of a bunch of roses, one of rosary beads and one that says ‘bless’ because the way my life has turned out, I know I’ve got all kinds of blessings coming my way from above.

Fred Kerley at practice (Fred Kerley)

To me, the tattoos are messages to myself every day to just keep on going and don’t take anything for granted. It’s like a stamp, a passport, about a place I’ve been or a thing I’ve experienced, a way to remind me of where I’m going, in track and in life.

In that sense, the one that means the most is that one on the inside of my left arm: Meme.

Without her, I don’t know what my life would be right now. I don’t know where I would be at, if I would be with my parents or else getting into trouble.  

It’s why, no matter where I am in the world, I stay in touch with Aunt Virginia every day.

She’s the woman who changed my life, who made my life. She will always be my strength.

Training images: Devin Jenkins