Growing up in Barbados, playing outside was a gift for senior track athlete Akela Jones. Once she finished her homework, she got to go play outside. There were no cell phones or computers yet. She ran around the neighborhood with her brothers and some other boys.
Jones said she started picking up sports around age 5, but she really started getting into them when she was 13. In high school, she participated in track and field, volleyball and netball (a sport similar to basketball).
Track gave Jones the opportunity to get involved in a variety of events and it kept her from getting into a rut.
“If I long jump here one day and high jump the next day, it just keeps it interesting, so I can go and have a longer future in it,” Jones said. “Being stuck in one thing is boring for me.”
That mentality led Jones to an NCAA Championship in the heptathlon, an event that includes the 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200-meter dash, long jump, javelin throw and the 800-meter run.
Getting to the Division I National Championship took some time. Jones needed to find a school where she could be successful. K-State head coach Cliff Rovelto said he learned of Jones during the recruiting process of another Barbadian, senior middle-distance runner Sonia Gaskin.
“We knew that (Jones) was a fine athlete and certainly could help our program, so that part of it was a no-brainer,” Rovelto said. “From her perspective, wanting to be competing at a very, very high level, she needed to find the right fit.”
At first glance, Jones said she was not sold on K-State and Rovelto.
“Honestly, I thought he was boring,” Jones said of her first impression of Rovelto.
But she took a second look. She noted that athletes on K-State’s track team had a strong history of improving in their performances over the course of their careers at K-State.
“I thought if everyone is improving little by little, imagine what I could do when I come to K-State with my talent and my ability,” Jones said. “If everybody’s improving, I want to put myself in that group. Success wouldn’t be a question.”
To become eligible to participate at K-State, Jones spent two years at Oklahoma Baptist, where she became a six-time National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics outdoor champion to start off her collegiate career.
“I think that she probably worked as hard or harder at identifying and committing at what she thought was best for her than we did,” Rovelto said. “We just happened to be what I hoped was a good fit.”
Despite her initial thoughts on Rovelto, Jones said he was ultimately a big reason she chose K-State in the end.
“He’s one of the greatest coaches,” Jones said.
Rovelto said he likes to focus on the process of reaching success as opposed to the end result, and he doesn’t see talent as the ultimate factor in whether or not an athlete will be successful. He said he sees athletes who were not recruited by Division I schools walk on to a team and then become the type of performers people like to talk about.
“When you take that kind of work ethic and that kind of support and then put it with somebody who is indeed just blessed with a lot of God-given ability, then you have really something special,” Rovelto said. “That’s Akela.”
In the weight room, Rovelto said that in some cases, Jones’ personal records have increased by 40 percent in the year and a half she’s been at K-State.
“She deserves what’s happening now because she’s worked to get there,” Rovelto said.
What’s happening now for Jones is just the beginning. She has already been recognized twice at the national level for her performances, and she has received one Big 12 Female Athlete of the Week award. At the DeLoss Dodds invitational, Jones broke the school record and the facility record in the pentathlon and she was just 35 points shy of the national record.
Jones will continue to barrel down the road to success at the collegiate level, and with the 2016 Summer Olympics right around the corner, she will get the opportunity to break out on a world scale.
“I’ve had Olympic dreams since I was about 5 years old,” Jones said “It’s going to be spectacular.”
Rovelto said he believes the deciding factor in Jones’ ability to perform at the Olympic level will come down to her growth in her ability to handle that level of competition.
“The reality is that because she is where she is as an athlete, she can compete with anyone in the world, literally,” Rovelto said.