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Fred Kerley, of the United States, celebrates after wining the final in the men's 100-meter run at the World Athletics Championships on Saturday in Eugene, Oregon. Image Credit: AP

Eugene: Newly-crowned world 100m champion Fred Kerley is a rare physical specimen able to compete in different sprint events.

But his rise to the top has been anything but easy, having overcome a disjointed start to life to be able to finally thrive on what one special person provided.

The normally taciturn, modest athlete almost cracked with emotion when devoting his 100m victory in Eugene on Saturday to his Aunt Virginia.

It was she who raised Kerley and his four brothers and sisters after their father wound up in jail and their mother “took wrong turns in life”.

Kerley was two when he moved in with his then San Antonio-based Aunt Virginia, now 66.

He took her surname and eventually had her nickname ‘Meme’ tattooed on his arm “so she’d always be with me”.

US cleansweep

“I think about her every day because if it wasn’t for her I probably would not be talking to you now,” said Kerley, fresh after his 9.86 second run won gold in a rare US cleansweep of the blue riband event.

“She’s probably blowing my phone up now as we speak!”

Kerley was under no illusion of what his aunt had done.

“She sacrificed her life for me and my brothers and sisters and cousins. We all got adopted, there were 13 of us and 26 of us in the household. We had one bedroom, it was 13 of us in one bedroom, we were on a palette, and at the end of the day it was like in every other house, we all had fun, we enjoyed ourselves, and we’re doing great things right now.”

The enormity of his rise from a complicated upbringing to the top echelons of world track and field was also not lost on Kerley.

“It’s amazing to accomplish something not too many people in my position (have been able) to do and I’m thankful for her for putting me in a position to win in life,” he said of his Aunt.

“I know today opened up many doors for me. The future is bright for me.”

Kerley added that he was now in a position to have established a dialogue with his parents.

“I’m a grown man. I can have a relationship with my parents. They were not here tonight but I guarantee they were watching,” he said.

Asked whether he wanted to be a role model, given his upbringing, Kerley was in no doubt.

“Everybody is a role model to somebody,” he said.

“What motivates me is coming where I come from... and for the future just keeping on accomplishing great things. You don’t want to be in the same predicament as you were when you were younger.”

A bright track future also lies ahead, with his capacity to run not only the 100 and 200m, but also the 400m.

Back on the track

He will be back on the track in Monday’s 200m heats and is still holding out hopes of competing in both the 4x100m and 4x400m relays. “If the coach allows me!”

“He’s a special cat, amongst an elite group of people like the (Usain) Bolts, the Wayde van Niekerks,” silver medallist Marvin Bracy said of Kerley, comparing him to the Jamaican sprint legend and South African multi-distance specialist.

Kerley played down his hopping from event to event.

“I’m back in my playground,” he said, recalling taking part in the 100m, 200m and long jump in school and college, no doubt under Aunt Virginia’s guiding eye.