The Springfield College women’s track and field team was in third place in the 4×200 meter relay during the 2009 ECAC Division III Indoor Championships when Nikki Hay was passed the baton. The team’s chance of victory now weighed heavily on her shoulders, with Cabrini University and Moravian University ahead in the race.
After a clean transition of the 28-centimeter hollow piece of aluminum from teammate Erica Marks, Hay took off on a blistering sprint.
She approached Moravian’s anchor and glided by her in a seemingly effortless move. As focused as ever, she knew she would not be denied the Pride’s first-ever ECAC championship.
She continued to gain ground on the first-place team, Cabrini, as the finish line loomed larger. Using her last bit of energy, she plunged forward to turn in her best time ever in the event, just squeaking out a first-place finish by .15 of a second in an improbable comeback effort.
“I had competed in five events that day, so I remember being exhausted,” recalled Hay. “We were behind and when I got the baton for the relay, I thought there was no way I was going to win. I still have no idea where this came from, but I somehow passed both teams to win the ECAC Championship, and that was the only time we ever won. That for me was my favorite moment, to be able to win that with my teammates. It was special.”
Hay (‘10. G ‘11), who will be inducted into the Springfield College Athletic Hall of Fame at the end of October, was born and raised on the island of Jamaica throughout her adolescence before moving to Norwalk, Conn. when she was 13-years old.
In Jamaica, Hay competed in a “Field Day” once a year, where she showed off her running abilities and developed a knack for the sport. Following her move to the States, she picked up track at Norwalk High School, participating in events such as long jump, triple jump, 100 and 200-meter sprints and the 4×100 relay.
Then-Springfield College head coach, Jim Pennington, went to a Norwalk track meet to watch Hay compete. He later reached out to her about joining the Pride and representing The Jersey. Her older sister, Donna Brown, coincidentally lived nearby, so the alignment of her being able to compete in track while having a sibling close by was too good to pass up.
“My sister lived in Massachusetts, so I was like, ‘that’s perfect, I’ll have family right there,’” Hay offered. “And then of course I had track. But on top of that, my major was social work, and Springfield College had a five-year master’s program. It was seriously a perfect opportunity to come to Springfield.”
Nickel Hay, Nikki’s twin brother, decided to join the Springfield College family alongside her, also competing in track and field for the Pride. Constantly having the love and support of Nickel by her side aided Nikki to be increasingly comfortable and confident in her new environment.
“[Nickel and I] pretty much did everything together,” claimed Hay. “He was there for all of my meets and he always looked after me. He is definitely my biggest supporter. We would travel together, he went to nationals with me, we were just always together.”
When Hay arrived on campus, she made an instant impact and her work ethic was noticed immediately by others on the team, including current Pride track and field head coach, Mike Miller, who was Hay’s teammate for several years.
“Nikki was very dedicated and determined to improve,” began Miller. “In my opinion, she was a leader as soon as she stepped on campus and she had the ability to inspire those around her by being thoughtful in all of her interactions. She worked very hard to get everything she earned.”
With Miller now being an experienced head coach, he uses Hay as an example for the kind of student-athletes he looks for when recruiting.
“As a coach, Nikki is the type of athlete we look for. A talented, hard-working student-athlete that lives the Springfield motto and doesn’t only lead others, but also supports and helps them with her words and actions,” Miller added.
The relationship between Alden Street and Hay was mutualistic. Not only did Springfield College give a lot to Hay, Hay gave just as much to Springfield College in return. During her time here, she was able to accomplish feats most people can only dream of. She was one of the most decorated and dominant track and field athletes in all of Div. III.
Hay won the D III triple jump National Championship in 2010, and was named that year’s NCAA Woman of the Year in correlation. In 2008, she was crowned the USTFCCCA Outdoor Athlete of the Year, recognized as the Indoor and Outdoor Athlete of the Year in 2009, and took home the Outstanding Women’s Field Performer honor in 2010. With all of these achievements, Hay had a feeling a nod to the Pride Hall of Fame would come her way at some point.
“It is definitely an honor [to be an inductee into the Hall of Fame],” Hay said. “I imagined I would eventually be nominated and inducted, but not for several more decades. I didn’t expect it this quickly. It’s an honor and a surprise, but one I really appreciate.”
She holds school records in the outdoor and indoor triple jump as well as the outdoor 4×100 relay. She was a nine-time NCAA All-American and won nine individual NEWMAC titles over the course of four years.
“I remember watching Nikki compete and train,” Miller recollected. “Everyone could tell she was going to be special. She was an athlete that would be all over the track, running from event to event, maybe doing the 100, 200, 4×1, long jump and triple jump all in one meet. She would always be present and prepared for whatever she had to do at any moment.”
With track and field competition now in the rearview, Hay still turns to running as her main form of exercise, oftentimes reflecting on her tsunami-sized wave of success she once had.
“[Track] is not really in my life directly to the point where I am competing, but I still workout and I take my health seriously. I run and still do those kinds of things, and I do miss it. It’s fun to look back on and think about,” she said.
Hay used her master’s degree in social work to land a job with the Department of Children and Families (DCF) directly following graduation. She has been there for one full decade and is still there today where she is now a supervisor for the company.
The married, 32-year old mother of two – Dallas (seven years old) and Ahmaad (one-month-old) – still lives in Springfield with her family, where she has been since her years at Springfield College.
Hay’s impact grew each year to become unquestionable since she stepped foot on Alden Street in 2006. And now, on October 30th, she will be immortalized in Springfield College history forever, joining a plethora of all-time greats.
Photo: Springfield College