Janelys Cintron couldn’t quite believe the news when she first heard it.
Nadia Davy, a 1999 Bridgeton High School graduate, one of the greatest runners in New Jersey high school history and an Olympic medal winner, was coming back to coach the Bulldogs.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ ” said Cintron, a Bridgeton junior. “I knew this was going to give me the chance to make myself better.”
Davy, 33, joined the Bulldogs as an assistant coach this spring.
“It’s been a great experience being out there with the girls,” Davy said. “I like seeing the things they can accomplish. I’m working with fantastic young ladies.”
The Bridgeton girls began to hear in the winter that Davy might become an assistant coach. Some of the Bulldogs knew who she was. Davy still holds the school’s 400-meter dash record (54.04 seconds).
Those Bulldogs that didn’t recognize Davy searched for their coach on the internet.
“They did their research,” Davy said with a laugh.
The Bulldogs couldn’t wait to learn from their new coach.
“I’m grateful she came back, “ Bridgeton sophomore Jonee Childers said. “She’s cool. We asked, ‘What did it feel like to run at the Olympics?’ How did she get there? And what do we have to do to get there?”
Davy was an unexpected Bridgeton success story. She started running as a young girl on the beaches of Jamaica. She moved with her family to Bridgeton in spring 1997. Davy ran her junior and senior seasons and immediately wowed the state high school track and field community with her times.
Davy won six state titles, including the 1999 indoor and outdoor 400 championships. She ran with effortless style. She exuded a quiet confidence. Davy didn’t say much, but her bright smile after races did more to describe her feelings than words.
Her time as a coach has reminded her of those days.
“You remember where you come from,” she said, “and the wonderful coaches I had back then to guide me along.”
Davy went on to become a seven-time All American at LSU, which has one of the nation’s top track and field programs.
Davy qualified for the 2004 Jamaican Olympic team. She ran the third leg of the 4x400 team that finished third and earned a bronze medal.
Davy shares her high school, college and Olympic experiences with the girls.
“It starts in high school, but as you progress, it gets harder and harder,” Davy said. “It takes discipline and focus to get to the level they’re trying to be on.”
Davy returned to Bridgeton in September for family reasons. She has a 5-year-old son and a 7-month-old daughter.
Davy works at Bridgeton High School as an instructional aide and is pursuing a master’s degree in counseling at Wilmington University in Delaware.
When she heard Bridgeton needed an assistant coach, she applied for the job.
“I wanted to give back,” Davy said.
Audrey Carter, who is in her second year as Bridgeton’s head coach, welcomed the help.
“She was that part that we needed,” Carter said. “She’s training these girls to be well-rounded females in general. She’s been there and done that (on the track), but she’s also a motherly-type figure. She’s education-driven. ”
Davy is still soft-spoken, but she demands discipline from the Bulldogs. She often goes through workouts with the team.
“She says, ‘You’re here for a reason. I want you to push to the best of your abilities, and I don’t want no horse-playing around,’ ” Cintron said.
In fact, some of the early-season workouts were so tough, they created doubts with the Bulldogs. The workouts were tougher than the ones they previously had.
“After our first meet, they did well. Their times were great,” Carter said. “They understood why they were doing what they were doing in practice. After that, they were all in.”
Bridgeton is a young team. The Bulldogs are 6-1 in duel meets and won a team title at the West Deptford Relays last month.
“We are just working step by step to get better as we go along in the season,” Davy said. “It’s a stepping stone.”
Davy has yet to show the team her Olympic bronze medal.
“It’s in a safe place,” Davy said.
But while seeing the medal certainly would impress the current Bulldogs, it can’t compare with what the team has gotten out of interacting with Davy on a daily basis.
Davy is an inspiration to the team because she once was where they are now. If she can be successful — on and off the track — why not them?
“Just meeting her,” Carter said, “the girls know they have a chance.”
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