Sitting inside a locker room of Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus, Nina Grambling — a freshman sprinter for the Youngstown State University track and field team — had just placed second out of 38 competitors in the 100-meter dash with a time of 11.73 seconds.
Along with her teammates, as well as athletes from other competing schools, Grambling was simply trying to keep warm and avoid the 40-degree temperature before she ran the 200-meter dash at the 28th Jesse Owens Track Classic, which took place on Friday and Saturday.
Suddenly, Richard Jones, an assistant track and field coach for Ohio State University, entered the room. With his entrance, Grambling knew the drill.
“I go to get up, thinking we’re about to get kicked out again,” she said.
Prior to the 100-meter, Jones ordered everyone except his Buckeye competitors to exit the locker room so he could coach his athletes privately. Remembering this, Grambling was halfway up from her sitting position when she noticed Jones’ stare.
“I was like, ‘Are we getting kicked out? Do we have to go?’” she said. “He was like, ‘No. You can stay. You earned your right to stay. You whooped on my girls today.’”
Jones proceeded to call out his OSU runners.
“He walks over to his girls and was like, ‘This girl ran the 100, you whooped on her. This girl, she’s a senior, you whooped on her,’” Grambling recalled. “I’m sitting there so embarrassed.”
Saying a quick “OK” and exiting from her half-stance, Grambling sat back down.
“It was so awkward, but funny at the same time,” she said.
Resentment and revenge
As if her natural talents weren’t enough, Grambling’s performance at the Sea Ray Relays at the University of Tennessee on April 11-13 was keyed by a motivating factor: revenge.
Coming out of GlenOak High School in Canton in 2011 — where she holds the school record in the 100-meter, 200-meter and long jump — Grambling chose Miami University of Ohio to continue her track career.
She spent only one year there.
One night, Grambling and her teammates ran into trouble with the campus police. Given the option of either all involved getting into trouble or only one of them, Grambling took the fall for her teammates.
“The next day, I went and told the coach what happened,” she said. “He told me I couldn’t be on the team anymore. After that, all the girls dropped me. It was crazy.”
Without the aid of her athletic scholarship, Grambling left Miami.
“My roommate moved out of our room, and she was like my best friend there,” she said. “It all made me a little bitter. I have a little bit of built-up resentment.”
Luckily, she released some of that resentment at the Sea Ray Relays where she received the opportunity to compete against her former RedHawks teammates.
“I saw them, and they acted fine like, ‘Oh, hi, Nina. What’s up?’” she said. “But I don’t think they expected me to be anything special.”
However, she turned in a special performance by running an 11.80 in the 100-meter dash — a time that was good enough for third place. But her highlight came in the long jump competition.
“When I went to Miami, I asked the coach if I could long jump,” Grambling said. “He told me I was going to be just a sprinter because he didn’t think I had the potential to compete competitively in college long jump.”
She finished in fifth place with a leap of 5.76 meters.
“Oh, I’m sorry, who made it to finals at Tennessee down south? Oh, that was Nina,” she said. “What? I can’t compete in long jump? Get outta here.”
Even better, Grambling did it in front of her former coaches, who were seated directly across from the long jump platform.
“I was just so mad,” she said. “I was trying to go so hard, just so they would see. After everything was done, he was like, ‘Good job, Nina.’ I just said thanks.”
Minus the drama, it was a performance Brian Gorby, head track and field coach at YSU, had come to expect from Grambling.
“Between the white lines on the track, she’s been fantastic,” he said. “I know Miami maybe didn’t go real well, but when she came here, we definitely got a tremendous athlete.”
Grambling calls her match with Youngstown State University “heaven sent.” Based on the events that occurred, it’s hard to argue.
The summer after leaving Miami, Grambling came to YSU to visit her friend Katrina Rettburg, a YSU high jumper.
“[Rettburg] had a recruit with her. She showed the recruit around and everything, and she was showing me too,” Grambling said. “I was just here to visit a friend. But in the morning after her visit was done, we walked [the recruit] outside because [assistant] coach [David] Townsend came and was picking her up.”
Ironically, Townsend coached with Grambling’s former summer track coach while she was still in high school.
By doing so, he was familiar with Grambling and her abilities.
“He was like, ‘How are you doing? Where are you running?’” Grambling recalled. “I was like, ‘I’m actually not running right now.’”
Eventually, Grambling set up her official visit with YSU and became a member of the school team shortly afterward.
“It was heaven sent, because otherwise, I don’t know what I would be doing,” she said. “It’s like a second chance — a glorified second chance.”
This outdoor season, Grambling has placed in the top five of the 100-meter in all four meets. Her season-best time occurred in Columbus. She won the Northeast Ohio Invitational 100-meter on April 6.
In addition, her Sea Ray Relays long jump is a team best for the season, and she is part of the 4-x-100 relay team that placed first at the NEO Invitational.
But along with her impressive numbers, Gorby enjoys something else about Grambling.
“When I got to meet her, I saw that her personality is upbeat, positive and contagious,” he said. “I just thought that this young lady is going to be not only great for us on the track, but off the track as well.”
Although Grambling is only 20 years old, Gorby sees a leader in the freshman.
“I think she’s a great leader in regards to just picking everybody up,” he said. “It seems like whatever she’s doing, it’s not all about her. She’s definitely a team player.”
Grambling knows it may seem odd, but to calm her nerves before many races, she relies upon the song “Just a Friend” by Mario.
“When I’m getting ready, it’s just in my head,” she said.
“Sometimes, I sing it out loud, and people just look at me like I’m weird. But I am weird, so that works.”
What may also seem weird is that even with all of her success, Grambling admitted, “I don’t really know a lot about track.”
She goes to senior teammate Ciara Jarrett for guidance.
“I look up to her. She knows what she wants and how to do it,” Grambling said. “She gets nervous at track meets, but she doesn’t let it get to her head like I do.”
So, early in her collegiate career, Grambling has plenty of time to improve on controlling her nerves. She also has the rest of this season and the next three years to accomplish her track goals of breaking records and winning the Horizon League conference.
Furthermore, she’s glad that time will be spent at YSU.
“Miami was a good school, but I didn’t get along with them nearly as well as I get along with people here,” she said. “I regret that all of that went down, and I ended up getting into trouble, but I don’t regret coming here. I wouldn’t be nearly as happy as I am now.”