LAKELAND, Florida — Namiah Simpson is in her last semester of competing as a collegiate athlete, having helped the track and field program at Southeastern University gain immediate recognition since it started her first year at the school.
Simpson won track athlete of the year that first season and has gone on to become a 10-time National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics All-American.
The Palm Coast, Florida, native is finishing her career this spring, even though she graduated in December. She already has started her 18-month master’s program in nursing at Southeastern. After graduation, she wants to work in a neonatal intensive care unit.
A two-week medical mission trip to Uganda last summer with 13 other students convinced Simpson that she should pursue a nursing career. The trek to Africa marked the first time she had been outside the U.S. She helped mentor medical staff in clinics connected to orphanages in four cities, including the capital, Kampala. The journey included providing respite care for widows who selflessly care for their children.
“It was an eye-opener seeing what the medical field looked like in a different culture,” says Simpson, who talks nearly as fast as she runs. “Now I see my career field as my mission field, to serve patients in a way in which I can be the hands and feet of Jesus.”
Besides the practical experience she gained on the trip, the skills gained as an undergrad contributed to the decision to make nursing a career.
“I love to interact with patients, to encourage them in conversations, and tell them about Jesus — if not verbally, at least by my actions,” says Simpson, 22.
As an athlete and nursing student, Simpson has to juggle her schedule to ensure she receives enough rest. Nursing requirements involved some early morning and late night obligations. She works as a part-time nurse at Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center.
Simpson’s two older sisters, neither of them athletes, graduated earlier from Southeastern, Briana Johnson with a criminal justice degree and Jada Simpson with a marketing degree last year. She also has a younger sister.
Because of her slender physique, people often guess instantly that Simpson is a track runner, as was her mother, Angela, now a bank call center supervisor (father Stacy owns a barbershop). Simpson says she has learned several life lessons as a track athlete, including to be content no matter what the circumstances. She missed competing much of her junior year because of injuries.
Nicholas G. Dodson has been Simpson’s head coach her entire four years at Southeastern, recruiting her as one of the first track and field athletes to commit to the program. She earned a four-year track and field scholarship to Southeastern.
“She never won a state championship in high school, but she already was a good track athlete,” recalls Dodson, 34. “From the start, I could tell she had a strong faith, a love for Southeastern, and a goal to be a nurse.”
Dodson says Simpson reminded him of himself, an unheralded high school athlete overlooked by many schools until a coach took a chance on him.
“Like Namiah, I hadn’t been given a lot of opportunities to be able to prove what I could do,” says Dodson, who attended Shorter University in Rome, Georgia.
Dodson coaches both the women’s and men’s track teams at Southeastern — which have won every indoor and outdoor Sun Conference championship since the programs began in 2019.
“Namiah came here and became our most-decorated athlete, male or female, in school history,” Dodson says. “She has won every track award that can be won, including the national championship.”
Dodson says Simpson has an excellent work ethic, and is a good leader and teammate. She takes stress off others, who are inspired by her energy level, Dodson says.
The coach also points out that Simpson is a three-time academic All-American, finishing her undergraduate studies with a 3.6 grade point average. In fact, Southeastern has more academic All-American track and field athletes than any other school in the conference, he notes.
Dodson has shared the lessons he learned from overcoming roadblocks in his running days. Simpson in turn has been able to confide in Dodson and his wife, Latasha, a onetime college athlete who works out with Simpson in hurdles training.
“Seeing coach Latasha as a wife, mother, and woman who maintains a full-time job has inspired me to never lose sight of my own dreams and goals, even when wearing many hats and serving different purposes,” Simpson says.
TOP PHOTO: Southeastern President Kent Ingle (center) is a booster of the 4X4 national championship team, which included (from left) Miyah Ford, Yuriah Bigos, Courtney Gales, and Namiah Simpson.