NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Gemikal Prude has the perfect body for an athlete - if that athlete is a point guard on a basketball team.
“My whole life I had played basketball,” Prude said. “I was going to go to the next level in basketball.
“But I got to the point in basketball where it wasn’t fun anymore. It was strictly a job. I still continued to play throughout high school because I loved my teammates. We put blood, sweat and tears into everything. But I knew I didn’t want to pursue it at the next level.”
During his junior year at Holy Trinity High School another sport started to capture his interest. He ran sprint events for the track and field team, but he would overcome a lot of odds to excel in a field event.
His height of 5-foot-7 is a little less perfect for some other athletic endeavors such as the high jump. But the junior from Melbourne, Fla., continues to build a reputation in this unlikely event.
“Gemikal is a great story that he and God continue to keep writing,” said Luke Syverson, assistant track and field coach specializing in field events for Lipscomb. “He is a very driven athlete.
“He is not your prototypical high jumper in size. Most elite high jumpers are 6-1 to 6-5 in height. He makes up for his lower center of gravity by being able to jump out of the gym.”
Prude’s goal was to play a sport in college, but that sport was basketball. Ironically, he started running track as the result of basketball.
“I ran track to escape basketball conditioning,” Prude said. “Our basketball team was really good. Our coach always wanted to start conditioning really early. Several of us ran track to avoid basketball conditioning.”
Prude’s best friend was a high jumper. Prude often watched the high jumpers practice. He found it to be equal parts interesting and scary. But he finally was challenged to give it a try.
“It was a technique day and we got done early with our running,“ Prude said. “We were going to try the high jump for the fun of it.
“It was always something I had watched and admired, but I was afraid of it. I thought it was the scariest thing ever. It looked otherworldly in a sense. It looked like something super heroes should be doing, not a normal 5-7 person.”
Prude was convinced there was no way he was going to ever try it. But he eventually gave into peer pressure. His teammates encouraged him to give it a try and he kept on telling them no. Then the head coach of the track and field team offered a steak dinner to anyone who could jump a certain height.
He not only won the steak dinner with his efforts, he also had a new event.
“I tried it on a Tuesday and our coach put me in big meet the Saturday of the same week,” Prude said. “We practiced the Friday before and I was struggling quite a bit. Our coach said, `O.K., good luck I guess’. It was like being thrown in the deep end of the water.”
He has been swimming, uh, jumping ever since. He finished this past weekend in second place in the Atlantic Sun Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships. He finished either first or second in every meet he competed in during indoor competition this season.
“One thing that has been really nice for me is that I realize the Lord has blessed me with this ability for a reason,” Prude said. “I have changed the perspective. Someone under 5-10 can be a higher jumper.
“God has brought me to this… being able to compete at a high level in the high jump. That is quite the blessing.”
The mental side
Prude has overcome his physical limitations in the high jump through a heightened mental approach. When the bar is at its lowest point it is two feet above his head.
“I would say that about 90 percent of high jumping is mental,” Prude said. “Visualization is a big part of it.
“You have to be able to see yourself jumping over the bar. You have to be confident. Everything has to be pretty well in order.”
Made for each other
Lipscomb started recruiting Prude at the beginning of his senior year. Other schools started noticing him as well. But he sustained an ankle injury during basketball season and several schools cooled on their interest in him.
Lipscomb’s coaching staff, however, never wavered.
“Lipscomb was always consistent with me,” Prude said. “They wanted me to get healthy, but they were more focused on me as a person. They would ask me how school was going and they would ask me about my mother.”
Both sides realized they were meant for each other.
“I remember watching video his mom sent me of him winning the Florida state championships his senior year,” Syverson said. “He went 6-8. I noticed how long he just hung in the air. He has a lot of power and has to in order to raise his center of mass to a level to snake over the bar.”
Prude skipped his senior prom to make an official visit to Lipscomb. He knew immediately where he wanted to be.
“This was it,” Prude said. “It all happened for a reason. It just felt like a home-away-from-home. Ultimately, I felt like God wanted me here.”
Not a smooth transition
But his freshman year didn’t go as smoothly as he had hoped. He had troubles academically and was ruled ineligible. He was kicked off the team due to academics. Despite the obstacles Prude was determined to be a part of Lipscomb and the track and field team once again.
“My mom wanted me to come back home and go to a community college,” Prude said. “I personally felt like this was God testing me. That was the time where I really built a strong relationship with Him.
“That summer I stayed in Bowling Green with my aunt and uncle. I had to take several classes and make A’s in all my classes online. I had to work at a summer camp at Bowling Green Parks and Recreation to pay for the classes. I felt like that was part of God’s work for me as well.”
Prude decided on his 21st birthday that he wanted to be baptized. It was not a hasty decision.
“God has always been a pretty big aspect in my life,” Prude said. “My mother raised me in the church. We went to church Wednesday night, Sunday morning and Sunday night. We read this verse or prayed this prayer before going to bed. I believed in God, his Son and his Word.”
He made his decision over Christmas break that he wanted to be baptized when he returned to school for the spring semester. He informed Chris Klotz, assistant women’s soccer coach, that he wanted him to do the baptism.
“I began to really seek God out and have that relationship with him when I first got here,” Prude said. “My faith has gotten stronger. I wanted to be more like Jesus.
“I knew it. God knew it. But I wanted to make that proclamation to the world. I wanted to give God that glory. It just felt right.”
One of Prude’s goals is to qualify to the NCAA Nationals in the high jump. His improvements are now measured in centimeters as he gets closer and closer to his goal.
“Gemikal still has a number of things we are working on to polish on the approach and takeoff,” Syverson said. “Anatomically, he has to do certain things a little different due to his shorter stature. The thing about Gemikal though is that he sees no limitations.
“He never talks about the fact he might be shorter or have it harder than someone he is competing against. It is always someone else who brings those things up. He only sees the bar as a challenge to be overcome. It is no different than how he approaches other things in his life. That is what I love about him.“