Sharmelle Holmes sees no limits

Sharmelle Holmes, pictured with her four 2024 state medals, raised the bar for Track and Field at Fairfield Central; now her eyes are on Kentucky. | Photo: Barbara Ball

FAIRFIELD COUNTY – Not only did Fairfield Central’s Sharmelle Holmes close out her high school career in a with nine SC High School League state titles, two new South Carolina records, and getting named SC Gatorade Player of the Year, but she did it while graduating with a 4.23 GPA and earning an Associate’s Degree in addition to her high school diploma. And as she now prepares to begin her collegiate career at the University of Kentucky, the goals continue to grow.

During her junior season at FCHS, when she claimed four state titles, Holmes said at the time that she “eats, sleeps and dreams track.”

And now?

“It’s definitely the same motto but just getting more and more each year,” she said in an interview with The Voice last week.

The trend began in 2020. Holmes was an eighth grade basketball and softball player but wanted to try track. The 2020 Covid suspension ended her first season early, so she was still pretty new to it going into 2021.

“Really, the crazy thing is, I’m not going to say I didn’t know what track was until ninth grade, but track was never a thought in my mind,” she says of her first season with the Griffins’ team. 

“My goals and expectations grew more each year… like the more experience I got, the more titles and stuff I wanted to get. My first thing was to be like, okay I want to win state. You win state. Okay, I want to win a national meet. I win the national meet. Then, I want to win a state record. I win a state record. As you keep going, the goals just get bigger and bigger.

“Now the goal is to set records at Kentucky. Any time it’s change, it takes adjustment. That first year always takes adjustment, but I’m still hoping and praying that it can be a good year for me. Just go and have fun,” she said.

Fairfield Central girls’ track and field coach Aliyah Miller said she thinks Holmes will do very well at Kentucky.

“She has to keep that same mindset,” Miller said. “You know, the goal, putting the work in. When you get in college, you’re more independent and you have workouts every day – all day – and you still have to do your college work and things like that. I think it’s going to be an adjustment for her, but I think she’s going to do well… She’s got that mindset.”

In late June, Holmes was named South Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year | Graphic: Gatorade, Photo: AK4K Productions

From Freshman to Famed

Miller says she has seen tremendous growth in Holmes from her first year on the track.

“It was amazing to see her from where she started and where she ended,” Miller said. “When she first came out she was scared, you know, she was running against seniors – just kind of getting a feel for what track was like. We started from the beginning, so we watched her not really have that good form.”

But even then, she said, Holmes’s potential was evident.

When Holmes returned from the Covid year, she placed at the state meet in the 100.

“That’s when her goals started getting bigger and bigger,” Miller said. “Next year [her sophomore season], she won state.”

Just her second full season in the sport, Holmes claimed her first state title in the 100 with an 11.81 finish as a sophomore. She also finished second in the 200 (24.73) and in long jump (5.09m).

She set even bigger goals for herself for the 2023 season – and then checked those off the list.

Holmes wrapped her junior season with a clean sweep, taking first in each of the four events she competed in – 100m (12.23), 200m (24.74), long jump (18-11) and an event new to her, 100m hurdles (15.09).

Following that meet, Holmes said she knew that she was becoming the person to beat.

And then her senior season state meet fell on her 18th birthday.

“I knew she was going to do something big,” Miller said. “I said, Sharmelle’s going to go out with a bang cause it’s the last high school meet of the season… so she’s gotta do something real big.”

And ‘something big’ she did. She was going for a state record.

Holmes opened the day with the 4×100 relay team where she anchored the final leg as they claimed the first titles of the day for Fairfield Central.

“Originally I was going to do the 400, but my coach asked me if I’d do the 4×1 with the other girls,” Holmes said. “I’d never had a team title. It is definitely a little more entertaining that just celebrating by yourself!”

At the long jump, she took her next title at the 5.86 meter mark, just shy of her personal best and beating the previous school record that she set a few weeks earlier during a meet at Camden High School.

Holmes returned to the track for the second heat of the 100 meter finals – which was over almost as soon as it started. A heavy favorite, Holmes’s qualifying time (11.54) bested her 2023 title finish (12.23) by over a half second.

“Holmes from Fairfield Central was impressive,” the announcer from MileSplit said.

Her time of 11.45, he said, “breaks the [previous] state record of Bonetta Kelly from Southside in 1993 of 11.49. You’re talking about a 31-year-old record.”

And that wasn’t the only record she broke that day. An hour later she did it again, in the 200 meter dash.

Holmes finished the sprint at 23.57 seconds, over a full second faster than her 2023 title finish time (24.74) and a new South Carolina record. But even that wasn’t as fast as her personal record of 23.53 at Upper State just a week before.

“I didn’t really know the time I had to run to break [the state record],” Holmes said. “I was just thinking about how I had broken my personal record. Once my coach told me, it was just more and more… and it was my birthday, and that was just a big moment for me.”

Holmes during her first National Title win, 2022 Nike Indoor Nationals.

National Titles

Wanting to step up her level, Holmes looked to Dream Chaserz AAU club to compete year-round. It’s through that club team that she claimed her first national title – in the emerging elite age group – during the Nike Indoor Nationals, which is held in the winter.

Holmes has twice returned to Nike’s Indoor Nationals successfully, and placed fifth overall last year.

This year she tried the New Balance Nationals and made it to the finals, but a false start kept her off of the podium.

“I was like okay, I’m going to try this again, so I ended up going to the Adidas National meet in Virginia Beach and I ended up winning. So that was a good start to track this year.”

The Holmes Effect

Fairfield Central principal Dr. Tracie Swilley says Holmes’s impact has reached past the track.

“I don’t think everybody understands the magnitude of her accomplishments,” Swilley said. “But she doesn’t act arrogant. She remembers her roots. She is proud to be a graduate of Fairfield Central.

“She always takes time to try to help the next person. She was very quiet and reserved at first, but I saw her come out as a leader, especially this year. I really was proud of her.

“I think the most powerful thing I saw from Sharmelle, specifically at the state meet – Sharmelle was a motivating factor,” Swilley said. “The boys didn’t win that first race that they all anticipated winning, and they really were down on themselves like it was all over. She really took the time to pump them up and was like, ‘y’all keep your heads up, we’re still in this – this is only the beginning.’”

Coach Miller says between Holmes and the boys’ championship track team, people who hadn’t paid much attention to track before started coming to witness the greatness for themselves.

She said she expects Holmes’s reach to last for years to come.

“I thank Sharmelle for raising the bar so high. For the young girls, who want to compete and say I want to be like Sharmelle was – now you see what it takes,” she said.

As she looks back on her high school career, Holmes says she’s most proud of those state records – its a difficult goal that not many people accomplish, she said.

But when asked if she thinks her record is one that will stick around for another 30 years, her reply reflected her humility.

“Maybe… maybe not. I’m hoping South Carolina track will continue to grow.”

One thing is for sure, Holmes has done left her mark on the sport in Fairfield County.

Ashley Ghere contributed to this story.

Holmes took another national title at Adidas Indoor Nationals this year.

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