This month we track down Nicole Leach. While at West Catholic HS in Philadelphia, Leach and her team (including stand-out, Latavia Thomas) set the National Record in the 1600m Sprint Medley Relay (3:52.22) in 2004 and won our 2005 Outdoor Nationals 4x400 relay. In her 400m hurdle race she placed second behind Krystal Cantey of Sicklerville, NJ and both of them broke the meet record - 56.83 and 57.26.
Nicole Leach created an impressive track record both in high school and college. We remember her best for her stellar performances as a member of the West Catholic High School team and for her performances on the 2004 and 2008 World Junior and 2005 Pan Am Junior teams. She was a 4-time All-American, 2-time USA Junior 400m hurdles Champion, 7-time Catholic League Champion, 10-time indoor state champion, indoor Junior class record holder in the 400 meters, indoor state 400m record holder and earned the No. 3 all-time spot on the high school list for her 52.19 indoor 400 meters in 2005.
She also set records in the 100m (12.05), 200m (24.37), 400m (54.13) and 400mH (59.85) and set the Penn Relays record in the 400mH, earned two Penn Relays MVPs and ran on the national record setting sprint medley relay. Her PRs in high school included 52.19 (indoor 400m), 57.25 (400mH) and 23.93 (200m). She was also selected as a Track & Field News All-American in 2005.
In 2006, while a student-athlete at UCLA, she earned gold on the World Junior 4x400 relay team in Beijing. In 2007 she was the NCAA 400m hurdle champion and represented the US at the World Championships and earned two bronze medals at the Pan Am Games. She was an Olympic Trials qualifier in 2008 and NCAA champion again in 2009.
NSSF: Who inspired you to run track?
I wasn't inspired to run track initially. I became involved in track as a result of my older cousin playing football. I would race all my cousin's football teammates after his little league practices and one day a club track coach spotted me and spoke to my dad about me joining the team. However, once I became involved in track and field my inspiration to continue and to compete at a professional level came from Michael Johnson. Watching him consistently break records and win medals was definitely something I want bad.
NSSF: What was it like being a student athlete and running at your High School?
Looking back, it was pretty easy. In high school everything was fun, even though I complained every moment I could. Almost all of my races were off of adrenaline. I thought I knew a lot about track but I really did not. The only thing I really knew was that when the gun goes off I need to run, and be at the finish line first. HAHA! West Catholic High School at the time had a good reputation in track and field as well as academics so me and my goals fit right. Also, I loved my teammates. We would have so much fun traveling the country and competing with the best high schools. Honestly, it was the fun I would have with them that made being a student athlete easier. We would stay up late and play uno or rent movies in the hotel and then wake up the next morning with that "fighter" mind-set ready to compete. Having teammates that shared the same goals and mind-set as myself makes the journey a lot easier.
NSSF: What was it like being a student athlete and running at UCLA?
It was at UCLA when I really decided that I was going to be a professional athlete. It was clear at UCLA that I had a job to do each season and that everyone (coaches, teammates, friends, etc.) expected me to get the job done. It was never intimidating either. I got the vibe that people who went to UCLA meant success so I decided to join in on the success. After my first 400h opener, which was a PR, I learned that I was capable of living up to the UCLA standards so from there on I carried myself and competed in that way.
NSSF: What is your favorite memory from high school?
My all time favorite high school memory was when I won, the indoor 400m NSIC race with a time of 52.19. I not only shocked the world that day but I shocked myself. I was under a lot of pressure to win that race and the fact that I not only won but broke a class record was exciting. I never doubted my capabilities but I never considered my self to be "that good."
NSSF: What is your favorite memory from college?
My favorite college memory was of course winning my first NCAA title. That is the biggest accomplishment you can achieve as a college athlete so I was glad that I was able to do so.
NSSF: What was your most exciting event or race?
My most exciting race was at the UCLA-USC dual meet my junior year. I ran the open 400m, which I took second but PR'd with 51.6, and about 50 mins later I was back on the line to run the 400h. I was dead tired and my legs were heavy. However, I got the job done. I won with a 55.3 and broke my own dual meet record. The excitement I got from the crowd at that moment was unreal. I had never been so tired and happy at the same time.
NSSF: What have you been doing since you left UCLA and how long have you been doing it?
I'm currently still training and getting ready for the 2012 Olympics. Things are going well. I've had my downs at being professional athlete however, it is fixable and I have the right group of people to help me change that around.
NSSF: What advice would you give to other student athletes? Simple, whatever you want to do just do it! Don't limit yourself or let anyone else limit you. Find a supportive and stable group of people to be in you corner, and work hard!
NSSF: Final thoughts?
I wouldn't change a thing about the decisions I have made in life!