SHARONVILLE – The sole difference between the hurdles Kevin Rainey has faced in his life and in a race is that on a track, he can see them coming.
Rainey, a recent graduate of Princeton High School, is known for what he’s done on a track, but it’s the hurdles life put in his path that have revealed a strong character. Back in March, Rainey etched himself into the Vikings’ record books by winning the indoor state championship in the 60-meter hurdles. In his final high school race, Rainey placed sixth in 110 hurdles at the Division I state meet in June.
Upon his arrival into this world, Rainey saw how hard life can be.
“Kevin came into this world fighting,” said Nicole Sneed, Kevin’s mother. “Kevin was a preemie, 1.7 pounds, 27 weeks early. I remember the doctor saying ‘The fight is up to him.’ I didn’t understand that. ‘What do you mean the fight is up to him?’ When we (are) born, we all fight to live, we do it unconsciously.”
There’s no rhythm to life’s hurdles. Obstacles are everywhere, impossible to run around. That’s what Rainey’s learned.
Life’s next challenge came in 2012, when Sneed, a single mother of four, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer that forms plasma cells that accumulate in the bone marrow. The diagnosis, on April 17, 2012, came a month after Sneed said she lost her full-time job.
Sneed’s doctor said her iron levels had been low, and a biopsy revealed she had cancer.
“It was hard,” Rainey said. “We didn’t really know where our next meal was coming from … you question ‘what’s next, how are we gonna live, where are we gonna stay?'”
Battling cancer, without a job, Sneed lost her apartment, and Kevin had to move in with his great aunt at the end of 2013, where he still lives.
“My aunt (Anna McKinney) took him in after I lost my apartment,” Sneed said.
Everything became difficult, including school. Most days, Rainey found himself worried, but he never let it show.
“When I had my place, I would tell him ‘Come on Kevin, you gotta go (to school),’ and Kevin would not leave until he made sure I was okay every morning. So, Kevin would be like 10-15 minutes late every day for school,” Sneed said.
Sneed began receiving truancy papers, until she wrote a note and called the school, explaining her situation. The school understood.
“Kevin don’t like for nobody to know his situation because Kevin don’t want nobody to feel sorry for him, and I can understand that,” said Sneed, who’s still fighting cancer today.
Rainey said he eventually “embraced” his situation, and sees it as an opportunity to help someone else by telling his story.
“At first, it was hard to talk about,” said Rainey. “I wouldn’t say I was ashamed, but stuff happens, and you can’t always point fingers.”
Pressure was present daily, and flooded in from everywhere. That’s where running has helped. After he gave up his organized basketball playing career as a senior, Rainey turned to hurdles full-time and told his coaches about what he was dealing with on a personal level.
“I worry about everything. Running is an escape from that. I’m doing it for my family … to see better days,” Rainey said. “It took me a long time to tell my coach. One day I was like, ‘you gotta tell him; he gonna understand.’ All you gotta do is speak up.”
Princeton track coach Terrance Stallings said it was “humbling” for Kevin to trust him that way.
“You would never know what (Kevin’s) been through unless you talk to his parents and learn the different struggles,” Stallings said. “He’s been one of the most humorous kids you could ever meet.”
Even those who doubted him were met with a smile. He refused to get down on himself because of what someone said. Rainey said he heard everything from “You’re not gonna graduate” to “You’re not gonna be anything in life.”
“I didn’t think I was gonna graduate. It wasn’t even the grades or a lack of focus,” said Rainey. “Sometimes, even though I wanted to give up, my mom wouldn’t let me give up … I’m not gonna sit here and dwell on it. I’m gonna prove you wrong.”
Rainey did graduate, and in August he’ll make the 10-hour drive to Iowa Central Community College, where he’ll run and is looking to study pharmaceuticals.
There was a time Sneed was worried about Kevin’s departure. Not anymore.
“If I leave here today, Kevin is going to survive,” said Sneed.
In 19 years, Rainey’s seen enough struggle to last a lifetime, but he knows it never ends, and he knows it won’t stop him.
“That’s probably the hardest hurdle, the first one,” said Rainey. “I might trip over it, but it’s not gonna knock me down.”