Nealy Williams will compete in the Class 3A track and field championships on Saturday, looking to add to her collection of state titles in the hurdles, and hoping to win in the long jump and triple jump, too.
But first place isn't the end-all, be-all for the Bryan Station senior, who looks beyond the medal podium for fulfillment.
"I do like to win, but it's not the end of the world if I don't," she said.
"I always push myself to do my best, and if I can say I put forth every shred of effort, I have no regrets."
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That, in essence, is Nealy Williams' approach to life.
She is determined to excel, whether it's making straight A's, becoming fluent in Spanish or playing the cello. But she takes as much pride in the journey's hard work as in the destination's rewards.
"Nealy has always been a competitor," said her mother, Debra. "No matter what she's doing she tries her best. She'll step up to any kind of challenge."
To say Nealy is goal-oriented would be an understatement.
When she was in elementary school, she declared she wanted to someday attend an Ivy League college. (Cousin Edna Underhill, a Yale graduate, was an early role model.)
On April 1 of this year, Nealy was accepted to Brown University, an Ivy League school in Providence, R.I.
"Kids have to latch on to something, and I latched on to the idea of the Ivy League," Nealy said. "That helped direct me on the path I took."
She flourished in Fayette County's Spanish Immersion Program, from kindergarten through high school.
"It allowed me to open my mind and understand that people can explain the same things in a slightly different way," she said.
Nealy challenged herself at every turn. She took Advanced Placement courses, joined the orchestra, and competed in track and field, basketball and volleyball.
She successfully balanced those endeavors with a discipline and maturity beyond her years.
Her dad, Lavon Williams, said Nealy has always had her priorities in order.
"When she was young she was gifted athletically, but her main focus has always been on books and reading," he said.
Nealy comes by her athletic ability naturally. Her parents — LaVon and Debra Oden Williams — both played college basketball at Kentucky. Her sister DeVonda was a standout athlete at Bryan Station in the late 1990s.
Nealy "hates the question" of what sport she prefers.
She likes the "physicality" of basketball and volleyball, and working with teammates.
Track and field's attraction is different.
"You can work hard and excel independent of others," she said.
"The best thing about sports is being able to actually see the results of what you're doing, like putting points on the scoreboard or getting to the finish line first," she said.
"In life, you usually don't see an immediate return on your hard work."
But academic achievement that comes after 13 years of dedication to learning can be more exhilarating than any sports victory.
Nealy called it "thrilling" to be one of 1,500 students accepted into Brown from among 30,000 applicants.
She plans to major in international relations, then go to law school, with hopes of someday being a diplomat.
She's also thinking about competing in track and field as a heptathlete.
But if that doesn't happen, that's OK.
If Saturday's state meet is Nealy Williams' last call to the blocks, she'll be fine.
"My parents helped teach me the transient nature of successful athletic careers," she said. "Nobody can play sports forever.
"But there's always new goals and challenges ahead in life, and I'm looking forward to them."