When Nakeita Kessling was in grade school, she attended classes at the library.
One of the activities they did was going outside to run races.
“I always knew I liked to run,” the Henry junior said. “I remember when I was little we used to go to a library class and the librarian would have us go outside and race each other. I loved that so much. I knew then I had to do track. That’s when it’s started.”
Kessling said she always won those library races, and she hasn’t stopped winning races.
She added jumping to the mix when she joined the junior high track and field team, and has developed into one of the best in the state.
Kessling placed fourth in the long jump at the IHSA Class 1A State Meet, finished fifth in the 400-meter dash, and anchored the area’s only state-qualifying relay, helping the Henry-Midland 1,600 relay finish 12th at state.
Kessling had the area’s top 400 time of the season (59.28 seconds), and had ranked second in the long jump (17 feet, 7 inches) and 100 (13.22), and fourth in the 200 (28.04).
For all she accomplished this season, Kessling is the 2021 NewsTribune Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year.
“That was just crazy,” Kessling said about earning two top-five state medals. “I knew in the long jump I had a chance, but the 400, I never would have thought I would have a chance at that.”
Like she has throughout her career, Kessling performed her best at state in both events.
She leapt a season-best 17-7 in the long jump, and ran a career-best 59.28 in the 400.
“I did so much better in my long jump than I did the whole season,” Kessling said. “I just have this competitive drive with all the girls there who I know are amazing. It pushes me to want to be better, I guess. I jump farther and run faster.”
Kessling said she’s always been extremely competitive, whether it was sports or even a family game night.
“I’m so competitive,” said Kessling, who was NewsTribune All-Area in cross country, basketball and volleyball this school year. “I love competing in anything. My mom always says I have this competitive drive. She says, ‘I don’t know why, but you’ve always had it.’
“It’s with everything. I do not like to lose.”
While Kessling said, “I think it was something I was born with” about her drive to win, she credits some of her competitive nature to growing up with sisters Nadia and Daphaney, who also play sports and ran with Nakeita on the state relay.
“Having sisters, you know you always want to beat them,” Nakeita Kessling said. “We’re on the same team, but we still compete with who makes the most points or who runs faster. That definitely helped me to be competitive.”
Kessling’s competitiveness is a key reason she’s developed into an elite jumper and runner.
“It’s helped because I always push myself,” Kessling said. “I’ll push myself to the farthest possible. There will be times I push myself and my legs will be jelly. I cannot walk anymore because I pushed myself so hard. It sucks sometimes when my legs are jelly, but at the same time, I’m pushing myself to get better.”
All that effort is worth it when she earns the results she has.
“It’s so rewarding,” Kessling said.
And she hopes to push herself to more success next season.
“Hopefully, I get into the 18s in the long jump and 58 (seconds) for the 400; that would be awesome,” Kessling said.