Lesley Hulett - ALL I WANTED WAS A JACKET
As a child, I was not particularly athletic, nor into sports. I spent my days patrolling the streets on my bike. So when I decided to run track, because that’s what my friends were doing, I had low to no expectations. My freshman year of high school, I set a goal to receive a Varsity letter, allowing me to have a letter jacket. That was all I wanted. A letter jacket like the upperclassmen had that set them apart.
Along with running track, I was also an athletic trainer for the football and wrestling teams. At that time, the wrestling season would run into pre-season workouts for track. I had informed my jumping coaches (I was a long and triple jumper) that I would maintain my commitment to the wrestling team and make as many pre-season workouts as I could. They were ok with that but unbeknownst to be me, our head coach was not pleased. He confronted me in the gym one day and berated me for my “lack of effort”, “fear of a little hard work” and “not committing to the sport”. He also mentioned that “if this was my attitude, I was never going to be good at anything.” He never gave me a chance to explain myself. This was the first time an adult in my life, especially a coach had ever spoken to me that way. Going after my character was painful especially when I felt like maintaining my commitment to the wrestling team was the right thing
I spent the next four years of my career determined to work harder than anyone else, stay longer at practice and be successful. I finished high school as a Nebraska state champion in the triple jump and the 1600 meter relay. I also was a state placer in the long jump, another year in the triple jump, and qualified for state in the 400 meter relay. The teams I competed on were state champions all four years including grand champions my junior year, meaning we collectively scored more points than any other team in any other class in the entire state. And I got my letter jacket.
After graduation, I received interest from several schools but none that really grabbed me. I decided to follow my best friend to the University of Kansas where I was considered a preferred walk-on.
My first year at Kansas on the track team was difficult due to adjusting to life away from home and having to transition from one outdoor track season to both an indoor and an outdoor season. My jumps coach was a difficult man to please and was hard on his athletes. His method for weeding out the weak was require workouts that were so difficult, it would make people quit. I watched as a jump squad of about 20 men and women were whittled down to about 10. I knew what he was doing and as a brutal as his workouts were, I was determined not to quit. I survived my first year believing I had solidified my place on the team as I had competed in meets and did everything that was asked of me.
Several weeks into my sophomore year, coach called me into his office. Out of the blue he says, “We don’t see any value in keeping you on the team.” I was shocked. I was hurt. I was also trying to be graceful but I wanted to cry and ask why and tell him exactly what I thought about the way he treated people but God gave did give me grace in the moment. I said thank you for the opportunity and I left.
I cried as soon as left the building and immediately called my Dad who was just as shocked. We just hadn’t seen this coming. We decided I would stay through the end of the semester and then determine what to do from there. Should I stay at Kansas and just be done with my career? Do I transfer and start somewhere back at zero? Where would I go? Would anyone else see my worth?
Once again, emotionally, I was that little girl freshman year of high school who’s coach reminded her that she held little value. And once again, I determined that I did have worth, I did belong somewhere, I could bring value and I still had something to give. After prayer and support from amazing superfan parents, who almost never missed a track meet my entire career, I decided to transfer to a Division II school in south
At the University of Nebraska at Kearney, I started at the bottom of the rung as a simple walk-on. No scholarship, no perks. I had to earn everything. As a long and triple jumper, I was average. After two years, I felt I had really hit a plateau in my training and my ability to help the team score points at our conference meets. I had value, but was disappointed in myself not being able to meet or exceed my own goals and expectations. Once again, those seeds of doubt were planted.
One day, my junior year, practice was over but the high jump bar was still set up. I went over the bar just for fun and our high jump coach was impressed. He said, “Let’s high jump at the next meet and just see what happens.” Well I won. And a high jumper was born. In a span of two years, I went from little value to being a 4 time All-American and National Champion in an event I had only competed in for 2 years. God had completely and utterly redeemed my situation a thousand times over. He still continues to bless me today as I will be inducted into Nebraska-Kearney’s athletic hall of fame in October of this year. And all I wanted was a jacket. :)
I went from little value to being a 4 time All-American and National Champion...God had completely and utterly redeemed my situation a thousand times over.