May 4, 2007
For any athlete, winning three Big Ten titles would be an incredible accomplishment. But scoring his third gold in the 60-meter hurdles at the 2007 Big Ten Indoor Track & Field Championships in February was about more than making it to the podium for Purdue's Rickey Pinkney.
It was about being alive.
The Boilermaker senior was riding in his neighbor's new convertible one afternoon in October when a buck leaped out from the side of the rode, causing the driver to halt on the breaks and flip the car. In the middle of rapidly developing catastrophe, Pinkney remembers getting kicked in the chest by the deer. He tried to breathe but had inhaled so much glass that he felt it scratch his throat and lungs with each gasp.
When the car rolled to a stop, Pinkney said he and his friend were saved by an off-duty EMT who happened to be driving behind them.
"We were so blessed," Pinkney said. "We really could have died. But through the grace of God, someone was looking out for us."
The accident left Pinkney with a cracked sternum, but he says he was incredibly fortunate that was all that was broken. This season, he put that incident behind him to prepare mentally for his grand finale at Purdue. And the Boilermaker hurdler has delivered on his high expectations for himself and the team.
"We want to finish in the top five," Pinkney said of the Boilermakers chances at the conference meet. "We have the strength to do it; we just got to go out there and mentally put it down."
At the indoor championships, Pinkney's performance led Purdue in a four-spot climb from a last-place finish a year ago to sixth at the 2007 event, finishing just a half point away from fifth place.
Going into the race, he was excited about a match-up with Michigan's Jeff Porter, the hurdles champ in the 110-meter outdoor race. He was so excited that Pinkney dreamed about it for weeks before the meet. Every time, the person who got out of the gates first won, and that person in his dream was Porter.
"The big rival for me in that race is Jeff Porter," said Pinkney. "He won it freshman year and I have taken the title the last two years. Everyone was going to be watching who can take the title the last year."
When race day came, it was, in fact, Porter who jumped to an early lead. But Pinkney's perseverance was blaring on all cylinders, and the Purdue star edged Porter in a photo-finish finale by a mere 0.0019 seconds. In the performance, Pinkney became only the second Boilermaker in school history to capture at least three Big Ten Championships and also recaptured the Purdue record, clocking a time of 7.76 seconds.
"That was truly special," Pinkney said. "I knew that it wouldn't be easy, and it wasn't easy the first time around, but I refused to lose."
Then again, recovery is nothing new for Pinkney.
He started track at age 9, but when he was playing football at Suncoast High School in Florida - with current Chicago Bears return star Devin Hester - the young Pinkney was more interested in the gridiron than track. But not for long. The Riviera, Fla., native missed his freshman high school track season with an injury, but by the time he completed his senior campaign, he was a High School All-American.
Even though he was recruited by Purdue, Pinkney began his collegiate career at Florida A&M, where he could still be close to his sick mother, and he started making a name for himself. During the 2003 season, Pinkney ranked 10th in the nation for the 110 hurdles and qualified for NCAA regional competition as a rookie with a time of 14.31. But something just wasn't right.
"[The coaches at Purdue] told me to call them the second things weren't going right," said Pinkney. "And they were the first people I dialed."
He moved to West Lafayette, Ind., in the fall of 2004, and immediately felt welcomed by the team. But Pinkney, who was busy rebuilding his leg muscles after sustaining an injury during the NCAA outdoor regional, was ready to find comfort on the track and stepped his training up to another level.
In his first-ever Big Ten Indoor Championships as a sophomore in 2005, Pinkney raced to gold-medal time of 7.89 seconds in the 60-meter hurdles. At the outdoor conference meet, he narrowly missed a second title with a runner-up performance in the 110-meter hurdles.
The following season, Pinkney was ready to make his mark not only in Big Ten competition but also on the national scene. After defending his indoor title at the conference meet, Pinkney solidified his place in Purdue history when he scored All-America honors with a seventh-place finish at the 2006 NCAA Indoor Championships in the 60-meter hurdles. He etched his name next to greatness, becoming the school's first All-American since Rod Woodson.
"To be compared to Rod Woodson ... I'm really at a loss for words," Pinkney said. "It is truly something special. I thank God that I made it here, and my coaches for being patience with me."
Now nearing his final lap at Purdue, Pinkney - again battling through everything from a sore hamstring to a shoulder injury - is looking forward to making his mark in the outdoor arena. He is getting quite a push from his teammate Keith Hopkins in the 110-meter hurdles.
A junior, Hopkins leads the Big Ten and ranks sixth in the nation in the event with a time of 13.59, but Pinkney is not far behind. His season-best of 13.92 is second in the league, just seconds ahead of his rival and the Big Ten's defending champion Porter (13.96).
It has been a break-out season for Hopkins, who had garnered Athlete of the Week honors three times this spring, but his teammate's success just pushes Pinkney even more. After all, it was international track star Maurice Green who said "To be No. 1, you have to train like you're No. 2."
"[Hopkins] has really been able to take advantage of this situation to be in the limelight and use that to the best of his abilities," Pinkney said. "I am really proud of him. He is the future of Purdue track."
But for now, it's Pinkney who has a lot to look back - and thankfully forward - on while he continues to raise the bar for the Boilermakers.
"I feel great; I'm ready to go," Pinkney said. "I'm ready for another Big Ten title and hopefully a national title."