Fred Kerley soaks up the Floridian sun while collecting handfuls of home-grown okra and green chillies. Kerley cherises his vegetables, which represent the American’s unique mentality both on and off the track.
His passion for gardening has also fortified his willingness to trust long periods of cultivation will produce great rewards, often against the odds.
A blazing 9.86-second 100m final in Eugene this summer confirmed Kerley’s status as the sport’s new sprint king. with Olympic champion Marcell Jacobs’ season scuppered by injuries.
Kerley’s hours spent in the garden have proven fundamental to his pursuit of running 100m faster than any man before. The almost mythical figure of Usain Bolt may yet prove illusive, but there is suddenly a stunning conviction in Kerley’s eyes as he vows to break the Jamaican’s world record of 9.58 seconds.
“It’s very realistic,” Kerley passionately declares to The Independent. “Everything is realistic; Bolt, Wayde [Van Niekerk], and all of the American greats. They put the bar up there for us to do it. UK inflation rises back to 40-year high of 10.1% as food prices soar
“If they can do it, then why not us? I’ve got to continue to train right, eat right, sleep right. These small things will help me to get to the bigger goals down the line. The records and that double gold.
“I speak to him [Bolt] on social media. But we don’t talk about records. He put the bar up there for us to go and attack it. He’s got the bar, we’re just trying to get there.”
From adoption as a child by his aunt Virginia, with his father in jail and mother absent, Kerley was among 13 kids crammed into a bedroom and left to sleep on pallets in San Antonio, Texas. Hardened by immense adversity, Kerley has rarely wavered on the path to greatness since. There were sceptics when the 100m shine lured him away from a blossoming 400m career, which has already included a bronze medal at the World Championships.
Kerley broke the 9.8 barrier this year, underlining his prowess after collecting silver in Tokyo to complete a stunning maiden season in the event. That mark has proven daunting to sprinters since the Bolt era, but Kerley swiftly rattled off three successive runs beneath the threshold, including a new lifetime best of 9.76 – establishing himself as the sixth fastest man in history.
Kerley is determined to “change the game forever”, with simple bounding exercises on high school football pitches the preliminary work on the road to the Budapest World Championships. The enormity of his goals make the tranquililty of his garden even more important.
“Gardening is peace,” Kerley says. “You see all the different colours in the garden. Once I get out of training I don’t talk about track at all. Track is not who Fred Kerley is, track is what Fred Kerley do. So I really enjoy the gardening, it allows me to take my mind off the negativity around stuff. It lets me leave track alone and focus on a different aspect of life.
“Gardening is like track and field in a way, if you’re not patient you’re just open up. That’s what gardening is, you have to be patient.”
After beating compatriots Marvin Bracy and Trayvon Bromell in Eugene to deliver a first American clean sweep on the podium since Carl Lewis, Leroy Burrell and Dennis Mitchell in 1991, Kerley emphasises the importance of his “brotherhood”.
“We’re all trying to one-up each other. We try to touch the stars. We talk every day, we have times we all want to achieve, we are trying to touch the stars.”
His words carry extra weight after British sprinter CJ Ujah was cleared last week of deliberately taking banned drugs at the Tokyo Olympics, despite a 22-month ban confirmed. The Team GB star referenced Kerley as a mentor, telling the Guardian that they “talk all the time” and even spoke on FaceTime. And Kerley was pleased to see Ujah emboldened by the verdict after a torrid year.
“I come from a place where people doubted people, but me personally, I want the best for everybody,” Kerley explained. “I want him to now look forward with life, even if people doubt him. At the end of the day s*** happens.
“I want him to now reach everything that people said he can’t reach. I’m a competitor, so whoever is out there on the track, I’m ready to compete.”
Just as Kerley shows his softer side, an abrupt reminder of his competitive edge arrives after being reminded of his glaring omission from World Athletics’ male athlete of the year nominees.