‘Track dominator’ making most of brief career

Chela Counts

Most track athletes begin running long before they get to college. But for sophomore sprinter Gelela Cooley, life on the track began during her junior year of high school.

Cooley, a Gainesville, Fla., native, recently became the second-fastest performer in Lady Topper history after her performance in the 400-meter dash during last weekend’s Pepsi Florida Relays. She contributes her short success to one person — her mom.

“In high school, they gave us workouts, but my mom pretty much helped me and taught me how to run,” she said. “I also ran cross-country in high school and that helped me get better as well.”

By the end of her senior year, Cooley finished second in the 3A state finals in both the 200- and 400-meter dashes. She was also ranked 23rd in the country for the 400-meters with a time of 54.16.

Cooley said she can vividly remember what it was like to run track for the first time ever at Gainesville High School.

“My first year I got beat, but then I started getting better, and the next year, I started beating everyone,” she said.

Upon graduating, Cooley said she received acceptance letters from schools like LSU and Jacksonville State University. But she chose to come to WKU.

“It felt more like a family when I came to visit, and even though you’re competing, you’re not really competing that much like you would at a big school,” Cooley said. “At bigger schools, you have to compete with others just to even get to go to another school meet to run.”

Those who meet Cooley for the very first time have described her as calm, quiet or reserved, but her friends and family members call her the “Track Dominator,” a name she gave herself one day while on Twitter.

“I got on Twitter one day, and everyone was talking about #TeamTrack, so I said that I wanted to give myself a track name, and I came up with Track Dominator,” Cooley said. “I’m always dominating the track and getting better and better.”

Head Coach Erik Jenkins said that Cooley has lots of potential as a young member on the team.

“She’s getting better and still has a long way to go, but she does have a lot of potential… She’s really starting to come around, and we just want to keep her healthy and humble,” Jenkins said. “She’s got a very bright future in the sport of track and field.”

Although her daughter is more than 10 hours away from home, Robvetral Cooley does her best to come to every meet.

She said she’s proud of her daughter and supports not just her child but others on the team as well.

“Whether they be in Alabama, Mississippi, or Arkansas — wherever they are running, that’s where I am going to be,” Robvetral Cooley said. “I don’t just come to see her run — I come to see the whole team.”

Along with accomplishing goals on the track, after earning her degree in social work, Cooley said she hopes to one day help kids who are less fortunate than she is. She said she chose the major because of her younger brother and sisters.

“I love kids, and I wouldn’t want to see my little brother or sisters done wrong or placed somewhere,”  Cooley said.