Bearcat Alums Make Their Mark on Rio 2016

by Stephanie (Coartney) Dulaney ’10

A sport psychologist. An equestrian course designer. A women’s 4x400 meter relay runner. An event coordinator. Their backgrounds could not be more different, yet each of these McKendree alums shared an unforgettable experience this summer. Traveling all the way to Brazil, they contributed their professional talents and hard work to the oldest and most storied athletic games in the world: the Olympics.

For much of the world’s population, the Olympic Games are an exciting two-week TV marathon spent cheering on each nation’s athletes as they compete for the highest honor in their sport. Fans around the globe watch the games from their living rooms and workplaces, sometimes even getting the chance to see them in person. For four McKendree graduates, however, the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro was something they actually lived.



Photo of Nick Powell on the Beach in RioNicholas Powell ’03

As a sport psychology consultant with his own business, Nicholas Powell has helped countless track and field athletes perform their best at competitions on the local, national and global level. Since the founding of his company, “The Mind Game,” in 2010, his clients have gone on to compete in the 2011 World Championship in Athletics in South Korea, the 2012 Olympics in London, and most recently, the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Nick started his career as a social worker after graduating from McKendree with a degree in psychology. In 2011, he earned a master's in kinesiology and is now a full-time medic case manager, as well as a part-time independent sport psychology consultant.

Nick’s side job soon grew into a successful career, and over the summer, he was hired to work with members of the Jamaican track and field team at this year’s Olympics. His goal was to give his athletes the tools to minimize the effects of negative thought patterns before they occurred. “I had the pleasure of networking with Olympics administration and federations from all over the world to make them more aware of the need for this proactive approach to sport psychology,” Nick said.

One of his most memorable experiences in Rio was seeing one of his clients who had an injury qualify and then make it to the semi-finals. “Some of my other clients made it on to the finals, and two received medals. seeing them getting to stand on that podium was amazing.”

Now that he’s back in the U.S., Nick knows he wants to continue helping athletes and future generations of coaches. It’s something he’s already accomplishing through another side job: part-time physical education instructor at McKendree. “To be able to bring my experience as a real life coach and sport psychology consultant back into the classroom is something I really value,” he said.



Photo of Jackie Leemon at the Rio OlympicsJackie Leemon ’85

Horses have always played a big part in the life of Jackie Leemon, but she had no idea that passion would one day lead her to the Olympics. As a McKendree student, she studied business administration and competed in horse shows in her spare time. After graduation, she found a way to combine both interests by starting her own business managing a boarding stable. In addition to overseeing the housing and selling of horses, she also leads riding lessons and continues to ride competitively in horse shows.

For the last 10 years, Jackie has been involved in yet another aspect of equestrianism: course design. “I’ve been to Canada and Germany designing courses for horse shows, and I’m starting to do more work for American ones too,” she said. This year, Jackie was invited to be part of a team of 30 course designers to develop the layout for the equestrian events at the Olympics. Using a computer scale model of the arena, she and her team created a draft and measured the space by hand to ensure the jumps would be timed to match the horse’s stride.

“We assembled the jumps and were in the arena while the competition was being held,” she said. “It was an amazing experience to see the American team win silver in show jumping. I knew all the riders, so it was really exciting to see the American flag go up and watch my friends receive their medals.”

The once-in-a-lifetime experience is not something Jackie will soon forget. In fact, she’s more confident than ever in her plans to continue operating her farm, designing courses, and showing horses. “The gold medalist in jumping this year was 58 years old, so I’m going to keep doing it for as long as I can,” she laughed. As a member of the McKendree Board of Trustees, Jackie says she has the University to thank for giving her the education and foundation to accomplish her dreams.



Photo of Lanece Clarke in RioLanece Clarke ’09

It was a childhood dream that grew into a vision and, this year, became a reality. Lanece Clarke wanted to compete in the Olympics for as long as she can remember. A native of the Bahamas, she came to McKendree to study accounting and to join the Bearcat women’s track and field team. After graduation, she decided her Olympic dream was something she had to achieve and returned to the Bahamas to train professionally.

For the past six years, Lanece put in countless hours, days, and months until she finally made it to the qualifying round for individual competition in the Olympic 400-meter race. “I missed the qualifying standard by one tenth of a second, but I had one last competition to attempt to meet it. On the day of the track meet, I was pulled aside and asked if I would assist the Bahamas women’s 4x400 meter relay team to qualify for the Olympics.” That choice would mean passing up the opportunity to qualify for an individual event herself. “I decided I would put my country before myself, and on that day, the women’s 4x400 meter relay team became the 16th qualifier for the Olympics,” she said.

As a first-time Olympian, Lanece was in awe of the energy and passion that spread throughout the hundreds of fans and the world-class athletes. “On the day of competition, I stepped onto the track in the Olympic stadium and was on television in front of billions of spectators. As I got into the blocks and heard the starter say, ‘On your mark, get set, go,’ I could hear my fellow countrymen chanting ‘Bahamas 242!’ What an angelic sound!”

Lanece and her teammates left the Olympics as the 11th fastest team in the world and made history as the first women’s 4x400 meter relay team to represent the Bahamas at the Olympics, setting a new national record at the same time. Now Lanece is pursuing a master’s degree and says she learned how to set specific, measurable goals from her undergraduate days at McKendree. “I learned that no dream is too big to achieve, and a dream without a plan is just a dream. As far as my profession in track and field, you haven’t seen the last of me!”



Photo of Nathalia with Andy MurrayNathalia Ramos Bayma de Oliveira ’13

An NAIA regional champion in tennis while at McKendree, Nathalia Oliveira was thrilled to discover the 2016 Summer Olympics would be held in her home country of Brazil. Little did she know, however, that she would be assisting in the monumental role of planning and coordinating them.

Nathalia earned her undergraduate degree in business management and international relations before returning to Brazil to start her career. The next year, she was invited to work at the Rio Open, a major two-week tournament organized by the Association of Tennis Professionals. After three years helping to run the event, Nathalia met the tennis sport manager for the Rio Olympics, who offered her a job as tennis information coordinator for the Games.

“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” she said. “Even though I had previous experience at the Rio open, the Olympics were different. It was a major challenge for me and my country. Things did not always happen as planned, but in the end, the players and their staff were happy.”

Nathalia was responsible for leading more than 20 volunteers and 200 athletes from around the world to ensure the Olympic tennis tournament ran smoothly. Through her work managing all of the courts and athletes’ practice schedules, she was able to get to know the players and their coaches on a personal level. “Both coaches of the singles gold medalists, Andy Murray (pictured) and Monica Puig, hugged me after the matches and thanked me for all the support and attention I had given during those weeks,” she said. “It was amazing to receive this positive feedback.”

Nathalia’s adventure continues this fall as she begins her master’s program in international relations at leeds University in England. “It made me grow as a person to interact with people from all over the world. now I’m ready for a new journey in England, and the only thing I hope to find is good people and professors and the unique, unforgettable experiences like I had at McKendree.”