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Encouragement from a hometown hero

EDITORIAL

Sometimes the best pep talks — and the best life lessons — come from hometown heroes.

For students at Kilby Shores Elementary School on Monday, it was a hometown hero who held their attention as he described the many countries he’d visited and the one he most hopes to visit later this year as part of the U.S. Olympic team.

Suffolk native Keith Ricks, 25, a graduate of King’s Fork High School, visited the school with another area Olympic hopeful, Kenneth Smith Jr. of Newport News, to help encourage Kilby Shores students during their own version of the Olympic Games.

Ricks, who attended Virginia Tech after graduating from King’s Fork, set five school records in Blacksburg and was an ACC champion. He then went on to earn a master’s degree at Old Dominion University. Today, his sights are set on Rio de Janeiro.

But he brought a message of tenacity and determination for the students on Monday, and by all accounts, they listened closely.

Running track events — his specialties are the 100- and the 200-meter dash — “taught me how to accomplish goals,” Ricks told the students. “You’re always trying to get faster or break a record. I’m always looking to get better in everything I do.”

Ricks will take that tenacity to Oregon next month as he seeks a spot on Team USA during the Olympic trials there.

But his return to Suffolk, which was part of Dick’s Sporting Goods’ “Grit Before Gold Tour,” gave him an opportunity to pay forward some of the mentoring and encouragement he received as a youngster. And Dick’s Sporting Goods — Ricks works at the Harbour View location — will continue the tour at elementary schools around the country in advance of the Olympic trials.

The events at Kilby Shores on Monday ranged from cornhole to a football toss to a 30-yard dash. But for those students who got to hear from and talk to Ricks, it’s likely they’ll always remember the event as their chance to meet an Olympic athlete. And if any of them become track stars in their own right, it’s a good bet they’ll trace their interest in the sport directly back to the day they met Keith Ricks, a guy from Suffolk who took time from his Olympic training to show them how to run a little faster.