USC's Brookins an accidental superstar

She started track as a way to stay in shape. Now she is one of the top sprinters in the country

Special to The StateMay 13, 2010 

  • SEC Track

    WHAT: SEC Outdoor Championships

    WHERE: University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tenn.

    WHEN: Today-Sunday

    ANOTHER USC ATHLETE TO WATCH: Johnny Dutch (110-meter and 400-meter hurdles) is the only athlete to place in the top 15 in both events.

If LaKya Brookins had not moved to Seneca during her sophomore year of high school, she might be participating in gymnastics or basketball instead of being one of the top sprinters in the country.

The only reason the USC junior started running track was because her new teammates at Seneca said they ran in the offseason to stay in shape for basketball.

Once she began learning the intricacies of running and realizing she was pretty good at it, Brookins gave up the other two sports.

"I've been fast all my life but I didn't ever think I was even the fastest girl in school," Brookins said. "You have to learn how to run with technique and get in the weight room. After I found out I was pretty good at it, I quit everything (else)."

Brookins, a 100-meter specialist, will be a favorite in the SEC Track and Field Outdoor championships, which start today in Knoxville, Tenn.

Brookins grew up loving basketball, and practiced gymnastics for 10 years. Her mother, Kimberly, was a competitive gymnast until an ACL injury derailed her career.

Her father, Mitchell, was a receiver and kick returner for the Buffalo Bills in 1984-85. He passed away in 1992 when LaKya was three. Kimberly Brookins later married Frank Smith, a former Old Dominion basketball standout who was an assistant coach under Oliver Purnell at Clemson for seven seasons.

So the linage was there for her athletic ability.

"I kind of see where I get my athletic side from," Brookins joked.

Once Brookins concentrated on track, it did not take her long to make her mark. As a junior at Seneca, she won the 100 and 200 at the state championships, and was on the winning 400-meter relay team.

USC coach Curtis Frye said it is not uncommon for an athlete to move from one sport and then excel in track.

"There are so many options for kids, track is never one of their first choices," Frye said. "I know we're fortunate having LaKya with us because she easily could be out there tumbling and jumping instead of running."

Last year, Brookins became the first NCAA 60-meter indoor champion from USC when she won in 7.13 seconds. Then in late April, she became the first USC runner to win the 100 at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia in front of a crowd of 54,310.

"I felt like that was a race that was challenging me to see if I could really do it in front of a big crowd against great competition," Brookins said. "I guess I proved to myself I could do it.

"It was big to win the 100. A lot of people thought I was good only in the 60 and I proved that wasn't true. I think people look at me as a complete runner now."

Even though her stepdad coached at Clemson, Brookins knew early she wanted to attend USC because of their history of top female sprinters.

The way she has progressed in, she now has an eye on the 2012 Olympics.

"I would like to run once college is over," Brookins said. "I don't know what it would be like not to be able to practice and run every day. With the Olympics being held in 2012, there is a big goal waiting there for me that hopefully I will be able to take part in."

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