Born to be a Boiler

Senior’s journey ends in college commitment


Skylar Greulich

Senior Nickens Lemba sprints off of the blocks during the 200 meter dash on April 27. This is Lemba’s second year competing in track.

Social Studies teacher and head track coach Andrew Geller remembers putting on track videos during his geography class. And, as he kept showing the videos throughout the year, they began to catch the eye of a student in Geller’s class; Nickens Lemba.

Although the videos intrigued Lemba during his sophomore year, he had no idea that they would bring him to make one of the biggest decisions in his athletic career: his commitment to the school he has watched and been a fan of for years, Purdue University. 

“I feel like track is the best fit for me to one day be an Olympian and represent my country,” Lemba said. “So, that’s how I’ve been thinking about it and making a good choice (about) where I’m going to be, where my next five years will be.” 

I feel like track is the best fit for me to one day be an Olympian and represent my country. So, that’s how I’ve been thinking about it and making a good choice (about) where I’m going to be, where my next five years will be.

— Senior Nickens Lemba

Over the course of his athletic career at SHS, Lemba has competed in football, basketball and track. And, for most of his time here, it seemed like he was on track to play basketball in college. But, at the last hour, Purdue offered Lemba the opportunity of a lifetime, a scholarship to run track at their D1 university.

When Lemba first came to SHS, basketball was the only thing on his mind. But, as his sophomore year progressed and Geller showed videos of track meets during class, Lemba began to take more of an interest in the sport. That was when Lemba decided to come out to a track practice and see what he could do.

Geller expected Lemba to be a high jumper or long jumper due to what he saw as Lemba played basketball. But after Lemba ran a 100 meter time trial over spring break, Geller quickly realized what Lemba was made for: running.

“We figured out really soon he was going to be a runner not a jumper,” Geller said. 

As the track season started, Lemba began running 100 and 200 meter dash events, to help him make the adjustment from basketball track. And, after some time in these events, Geller knew that Lemba was ready for the next challenge, the 400 meter dash, an event Geller believed would be Lemba’s specialty from the beginning.

Lemba first ran the 400 meter dash at the end of his sophomore year and continued to run the event throughout his junior year, culminating in a second-place finish at the state meet.

Throughout this time Lemba wasn’t just competing intrack, he was also playing club basketball to prepare for the next school basketball season. Trying to participate at a high level in both sports proved to be  a hard balance to strike.

However, as Lemba’s senior year began, this difficulty was removed. With his decision to stop playing club basketball, he could now channel all his energy and attention towards track, resulting in a noticeable transformation in both his abilities and technique.

 “This year, he’s really focused on (track) and it’s showing,” Geller said.

As the end of Lemba’s approached, he found himself facing a crucial decision regarding his college plans and how sports would play into it. This began when he was presented with an enticing opportunity from Marian that would allow him to compete in both basketball and track at the collegiate level. 

Although he didn’t formally sign an agreement, he did post an online commitment to the university, which then caught the attention of Purdue University, who had also been eyeing Lemba. But, this offer was slightly different, promising Lemba a scholarship, but to only pursue track and removing basketball from the picture. 

Purdue then contacted Lemba asking if he had already formally committed to Marian. At first, Purdue said, they held back from offering him a scholarship because they didn’t have the money or space to offer him one. But, after one of the members of the track team quit, a space opened up for Lemba.

But, before Lemba made a final decision, he toured Purdue. Although he was nervous as he toured the campus, with his heart beating quickly knowing that he had to make a final decision in the following days, he also was filled with excitement touring the large campus of the D1 college he had always admired.

While he was there, he toured the training facilities and talked to the coaches and the teammates to get a feel for the environment at the campus.

“I talked to the teammates and the coaches, staff and everybody on campus that I could meet,” Lemba said.

After the visit, Lemba made his decision. 

He would formally commit to Purdue to pursue track and major in business. But, even with the excitement of committing, the decision wasn’t an easy one. The decision to leave basketball, the sport he had done for the longest, behind was bittersweet.

“I’m very sad about it, but at the same time I’m very happy because you never know (what will happen),” Lemba said.

So, as Lemba’s high school career comes to an end, his college journey is just beginning. With a new place and new opportunities coming next year at Purdue, Geller believes that Lemba’s college career will be an exciting one.

“The growth that he has in him is going to be fun to watch and fun to follow at the next level,” Geller said.