Ex-Husker All-America Hurdler Brown Wins Olympic Silver in Bobsled
Randy York's N-sider
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Gary Pepin was multi-tasking Wednesday night at his Lincoln home. Nebraska's Hall-of-Fame track and field coach was watching the Husker women's basketball team win its first-ever Big 12 Conference championship on television at the same time he was listening to the men's basketball team on radio.
During an occasional timeout, he would even check to see if anyone was great on American Idol ("No one was," he said), admitting he was more engrossed in finalizing his strategy for this weekend's Big 12 Conference Indoor Championships in Ames, Iowa.
Pepin may not have heard any world-class singers Wednesday night on one of his favorite shows, but he watched Shelley-Ann Brown, one of his world-class former athletes, who also happens to be an accomplished singer, win a silver medal in the 2010 Winter Olympics in her native Canada.
And, yes, Pepin shook his head a bit and felt some pride when the announcer told the world that Brown was "an All-American hurdler at the University of Nebraska".
For the most decorated track and field coach in Big 12 history, those words sounded more like gold than the silver Brown won in the women's bobsled at the Whistler Sliding Center.
You'd shake your head, too, if one of your favorite student-athletes came out of nowhere in a different sport and climbed a medal stand with two gold-winning Canadian teammates.
Somehow, someway, fame found Shelley-Ann Brown, who turned down a chance to compete in the 2006 Olympics and was shocked when she got another call three years later.
Tomasevicz: No One More Deserving Than Brown
"I don't know of anyone that is more deserving of an Olympic medal than Shelley-Ann Brown," said Curtis Tomasevicz, the ex-Nebraska football walk-on whose four-man American bobsledding team is a co-favorite to win a gold medal in Vancouver Friday afternoon and Saturday afternoon.
"She's one of the nicest people I have ever met off the ice, and she works incredibly hard on the ice," Tomasevicz said. "She's a very gifted athlete and doesn't waste any of her talents. She's very proud of her country and very proud to call herself a Husker. She really lives the Olympic ideals in her life every day."
Dennis Leblanc and Keith Zimmer would vouch for that.
"I'm not surprised at all to see Shelley-Ann win an Olympic silver medal," said Leblanc, Nebraska's Senior Associate Athletic Director for Academics. "She's a very thoughtful person, and when she sets her mind to do something, she maps out a plan and doesn't let anything get in the way of her achieving that plan."
"Shelley-Ann Brown was one of the nicest, most humble student-athletes I've had the pleasure to work with at Nebraska," said Zimmer, NU's Associate Athletic Director for Life Skills. "I was very impressed with her leadership qualities and her desire to make a positive difference through service and just her overall passion for everyday life!"
A four-year letterwinner for Nebraska from 2000-03, Brown decided to turn down her first Olympic opportunity because of her involvement in a Lincoln campus ministry group. A member of the Nebraska Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, she also was heavily committed to promoting spiritual and physical health for children at the People's City Mission in Lincoln.
Even today, she's the director of Camp E.D.I.F.Y. (Education and Direction for Intelligent and Fit Youth), an eight-week summer camp for children, ages 4-13, in her native Scarborough, Ontario.
She Can't Do Anything Less Than Full Speed
Pepin says Brown was so driven to compete in a number of events and so determined to serve in so many outside activities that NU Assistant Coach Matt Martin once advised her to make sure she took some time to relax and rest.
Brown, though, never could step into the slow lane in anything she took on, and her explosiveness off the starting line no doubt helped the 29-year-old Brown and her 30-year-old driver move from fourth to third to second on their second, third and fourth runs down the Olympic ice.
Brown not only had a plan for every goal, but also was willing to push herself to achieve even the wildest of dreams.
Maybe it all stems from watching the 1988 Olympics on television. She was eight years old at the time and announced to her family that someday she would be an Olympic sprinter.
Pepin is proud that Nebraska recruited her, and she landed on a Nebraska track and field team that to this day has athletes from Australia, Canada, Croatia, Jamaica (where Brown's ancestors are from), Romania, South Africa, Sweden, Trinidad and Tobago.
"You know, it's funny. We've had three young women from our track and field team try to make it as Olympic bobsledders, and they were all four-year letterwinners in that same basic timeframe," Pepin said. "Amanda Moreley gave it a good run and was the one who convinced our football player (Tomasevicz) to try out for the Olympic bobsled. Alissa Koerner was another."
Nebraska's head track coach thinks Brown's ability to overcome obstacles may have had as much to do with her earning a silver medal as winning a Big 12 title in the 100-meter hurdles or finishing fifth in the NCAA to earn All-America honors.
Can This Canadian Be an American Idol, Too?
In her first season at Nebraska, Brown suffered a series of stress fractures that kept her on the sidelines. That's when she made a personal vow to persevere through her troubles and never to take her foot off the accelerator whenever she got back on the track or in the groove of her other life passions.
Which brings us to our final point - maybe Brown's next outrageous pursuit should be to move back to the United States and try to earn a spot on American Idol.
"If I remember right, she was a pretty good singer," Pepin said.
"She was great the only time I saw her sing," Zimmer said. "I'll never forget when she came into my office one day and we walked across campus for a Martin Luther King celebration where (NU Chancellor) Harvey Perlman introduced her."
Using the spiritual fuel that seems to drive everything she does, Brown belted out her rendition of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" - the Negro National Anthem that is performed across the country every February in honor of Black History Month.
Shelley-Ann Brown, Husker All-American and now Olympic silver medalist, "knocked the socks off that song that day," Zimmer recalled, "but that's not what I remember most. She also had a million-dollar smile, and, believe me, that smile lit up the room."
Who knows? Maybe in a year or two, Gary Pepin will look up from his clipboard some February evening while watching a basketball game and plotting some track strategy, and he'll see Shelley-Ann Brown listening to four judges who just might agree that she's as great as everyone at Nebraska thinks she is.
Voices from Husker Nation
Shelley-Ann is my cousin, and I am very, very proud of her talent, her drive, her determination, her humility, her love of people, her love for her Lord, all that she has accomplished, but most of all, I am just proud of the wonderful human being that she is. And yes she is a great singer, but I would never want her to go on American Idol, which I'm watching right now and finding the judges quite disgusting. If music is to be next for Shelley-Ann, she doesn't need the grief of Idol because her gift will make room for her as she follows her heart and the spirit. Thanks for the compliment though. She does have a great voice, and she sings from her heart. Her siblings aren't too rusty either. :) Ann-Marie Turner, London, England