Catching Up with Former SEC Champion Ellakisha (Williamson) O’Kelley
It’s only fitting that Ellakisha (Williamson) O’Kelley was a three-time SEC Champion in hurdles and relay events, because the former South Carolina All-American simply doesn’t let obstacles get in her way. Now the inaugural head cross country coach and health and wellness instructor at Oxford College of Emory University in Atlanta, O’Kelley is always moving forward, but not forgetting where she has been.
“South Carolina was that dot on my ‘i,’ ” O’Kelly said. “I knew I had what it takes to achieve because I came from a hard background. South Carolina showed me that no matter what obstacles were in my way, I could achieve my goals.
“I remember a conversation I had with Coach Curtis Frye before my first SECs (meet), and he told me that it’s a big feat just to be competing at SECs. But he said that to win it is going to take something really big. I remember walking out of his office and carrying those words and those feelings and how I was going to live up to something big.”
A highly recruited prep athlete, O’Kelley became pregnant with her first child before her high school career ended, and she started her collegiate career in her hometown at the State University of New York at Albany. She successfully balanced being a young mother with being a full-time record breaking student-athlete. This led to more exposure and a chance to compete at a higher level, and she transferred to South Carolina in 1998.
“South Carolina caught my attention because it was the ‘hurdles-central,’” O’Kelley said. “I would constantly hear about them and about Coach Frye. I just knew that I wanted to be at that place.”
O’Kelley would become a six-time All-American in hurdles as well as the 4 x 100 and 4 x 400 meter relay events, while also becoming the SEC Outdoor 100 meter hurdles champion, SEC Outdoor 400 meter hurdles champion, and part of the 4 x 400 meter relay champions in 1999.
“There are so many great memories,” O’Kelley said. “When I was a double champion in the hurdles, that was big because that was the first time that had happened in the SEC. So it was a part of history. We had made history on several levels that year. We won our first SEC Championship for the University of South Carolina together, so that was huge.”
Being led by Coach Frye, we learned to focus on our academics and also go out on the track and represent at the highest level.
As a senior, O’Kelley was named South Carolina’s Student-Athlete of the Year for her stellar academic and athletic accomplishments.
“Winning that was a huge deal to me because it wasn’t just about athletics accolades,” O’Kelley said. “That was something where the University was acknowledging me for balancing my academics and athletics.”
O’Kelley is proud that she was able to maintain a 3.0 grade point average while competing as a full-time student-athlete and also raising her daughter. She also noted that the camaraderie with her teammates was what made being at South Carolina so special.
“We came in to build something new,” O’Kelley said. “We were all in ‘beast mode.’ Being led by Coach Frye, we learned to focus on our academics and also go out on the track and represent at the highest level with all of the energy that we had in our training and in our team meetings. We were surrounded by that.”
Upon graduating in 2000 with a degree in criminal justice, O’Kelley competed professionally and was an alternate for the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. She also competed at the World University Games in 2001, finishing fifth. After marrying Tony O’Kelley and having a son, she successfully went back to competing at a high level. She credits her experience at South Carolina in helping her along the way.
“After I left South Carolina, I had even more drive,” O’Kelley said. “I earned my master’s degree. I just finished law school, and I’m waiting on my Bar Exam results. I’m going to get into sports law. I use a lot of my experiences at South Carolina in some of my motivational speeches, which I call ‘the sport of life.’ I learned at South Carolina how to excel at the sport of life.”
A few years after returning to competition, a knee injury forced her to retire, but it still didn’t stop her from achieving.
“In addition to coaching, I’m an empowerment advocate and a community activist,” O’Kelley said. “I don’t just try to empower athletes. I want people to become champions in their life.”
O’Kelley was the head track and field coach at Fort Valley State University (Ga.) from 2009–2013, where she earned numerous accolades from the university, conference and the NCAA.
As the Gamecocks host the 2017 SEC Outdoor Championships at the brand new Cregger Track and Field Facility, O’Kelley looks forward to coming back and watching the next generation of student-athletes achieve their dreams, on and off the track.
“I am definitely coming to the SEC Championships,” O’Kelley said. “I will be there. The last time I was there was three years ago when I was coaching at Fort Valley State.”
Now a proud grandmother, or “GlamMa” as she prefers to say, O’Kelley keeps in shape and said she can “still run with the best.” She and her family currently live in Atlanta.