Al Jennings, one of the top track & field minds in New Jersey, didn’t remember the situation exactly correctly. But he remembered it well enough to provide insight on just how gutsy Khalin Hemingway is as a runner.
As a Lawrence High freshman last year, Hemingway was competing in the 400 intermediate hurdles at the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III sectional meet.
“It was right here on this track,” Jennings said at Northern Burlington High School during this year’s Meet of Champions. “She fell on the eighth hurdle on the turn, got up and still placed in the meet. That’s how tough she is.”
Actually, she did not place, but came darn near with a ninth-place finish. The top six runners advance to the state meet. Hemingway remembered the moment well.
“I was coming around the bend and I might have been like, third, and I came over the hurdle and just fell,” she said. “Of course when you fall you’re like ‘Oh my God!’ and I wanted to just lay there. But I heard everybody yelling ‘Get up, get up!’ so I had to finish. I didn’t place but I was close.”
She did advance in the 100 high hurdles, however, as her sixth-place finish in 16.91 made her the only freshman to compete in that event in the Group III meet. Although she finished last in the preliminaries, Hemingway ran the same 16.91 that she had in sectionals, and laid the groundwork for what is blossoming into a stellar career.
As a sophomore, Hemingway took second in the 100 hurdles (15.31) at this year’s sectionals and third in the 400 hurdles (1:06.88). At the Group III meet, she took 7th in the 100 HH (15.41) and 18th in the 400 IH (1:07.15) and was awarded a Wild Card invitation to the Meet of Champions in the 100 HH.
Unfortunately, a cold struck one day before the big meet on June 10, which didn’t help Hemingway’s performance. She finished 30th in the trials in 16:26.
“It’s all in my chest,” she said minutes after the race ended. “I could feel the wind hitting me. I just ran my hardest. Of course I wish I could have run better but there’s always next year. Trying to breathe while I was catching that air was very hard, but it’s all right. It was definitely a good experience. I have two more years to come out and try to be the best.”
Jennings, who serves as an assistant to LHS head coach Tim Collins, felt it was a solid season for his prized 10th-grader.
“She kept getting through and that’s the name of the game, to get to the Meet of Champs,” Jennings said. “She’s done that as a sophomore in a very tough event. I think Jersey’s one of the toughest states for hurdles and she runs very well. She’s run her fastest time every time she comes out. You can’t ask for any more than that.”
It was Jennings, who has turned countless Mercer County runners into successes, who first noticed Hemingway at Lawrence Middle School. By then, she had already gotten plenty of practice chasing her three older brothers, including Davon, a junior running back on the football team and a member of the Cards track team.
“They all played football since they were five and I always thought I could beat them,” Hemingway said. “It was a joke back then but I could actually keep up with them. My father always knew, he would say ‘she’ll be great, she’s goning to run track.’ That’s kind of what started it all.”
‘I definitely feel my mental toughness is way better than last year.’
The question is, did she actually keep up with her siblings?
“Brothers are brothers, there’s always that nagging and taunting,” she said. “I get head starts every now and then. You know, the younger sister, she gets to beat them. Sometimes my second to oldest brother would lose to make me feel good. But I could always keep up with them.”
Once she began running against strictly girls, Hemingway showed enough potential in middle school to catch Jennings’s eye.
“I started in eighth grade and I didn’t take it too seriously,” she said. “Coach Jennings saw me and said ‘Oh, look at the girl!’ He talked to me over the summer and said ‘You’re going to run next year,’ and I said, ‘OK, that would be great.’ I didn’t think I would be this good. Last year when I was the only freshman at states, that just showed me ‘You could do this,’ and I had my coaches pushing me all the way.”
Hemingway felt that last year was mostly a learning experience when it came to the hurdles. She began to get serious coaching and improved as the season went on. Hemingway began working with Mijah Collier, a standout hurdler whose junior campaign was curtailed by injuries this season.
“Coming into this year I didn’t know what to expect,” Hemingway said. “But I tried. My coach told me ‘You’re going to make it.’ I had my doubts along the way. Whew, those workouts. I definitely pushed through. I hate workouts but they always told me they would make me better so I just know in practice you have to be the best you can be. It starts in practice and you work past your competition so that’s all I’ve been doing.”
She also decided to take the sport more seriously.
“I definitely feel my mental toughness is way better than last year,” Hemingway said. “I went into it kind of playing around last year. I took my work seriously this year. I knew I was going to have to battle if I want to be the best. So, I came into the season thinking ‘These kids around you aren’t going to slack off so you have to push to be better than the person next to you.’”
Despite fighting her cold at the Meet of Champions, Hemingway felt “like I could have run better, but I don’t think about what I could have done. It happened and there’s next year.”
First there is the summer, where she will compete in AAU track, travel soccer and basketball. She plans on returning to the soccer pitch for Lawrence next fall. As for playing basketball for a third straight year, there is a decision to be made.
‘Her work ethic is so good. She definitely pushes me as a teammate.’
“I love basketball, that’s my passion, but I definitely know that track is what I was put on earth to do,” Hemingway said. “College wise, if I see myself getting a scholarship it’s going to be through track. I’m still deciding. I’m not sure yet. I’ll definitely be doing both over the summer but I’ll make my decision when the time comes if I’m gonna do track or stay in basketball.”
It’s easy to figure out what Jennings wants her to do.
“I think if we can get her indoors instead of playing basketball and really get her to work on her technique with Mijah she could be something special,” Jennings said. “The other thing we argue about is her best event is intermediates and she doesn’t like to do them. They’re work. You really gotta work on those. But once she realizes that’s going to take her where she wants to go, she’ll get into it. She’s one of the toughest kids I’ve ever seen.”
Asked if she planned on taking the 400 hurdles more seriously, Hemingway gave a knowing grin.
“I don’t really have a choice,” said Hemingway, who is also proficient in high jump. “Of course I am. I’m going to try best. The 400 hurdles hurt so bad, but (Jennings) saw that I continue to grow in the 400 even when I think I can’t do it. He always tells me doing the 400 hurdles will make me stronger.”
While Hemingway was the lone Cardinal to make it to the MOC, her classmate also had an impressive post-season. Sophomore Cynthia Currie qualified for states by winning the CJ III title in the 200 (25.92) and taking third in the 100 (12.73).
“She has come a long way,” Hemingway said. “Her work ethic is so good. She definitely pushes me as a teammate. I know if I want to be that good I have to work hard. She runs completely different events than me but we’re always on the track together and always encouraging each other. The way she improved this year, I was shocked. I didn’t know if she could do that, but she came out and ran really hard.”
And with Collier coming back for her senior year, it’s a trio that could be fun to watch at LHS next season.