The bruises on Ivelle Tailey’s knees were a reminder of how tough a new challenge can be.
The senior track star at the Academy at Palumbo was always a fast runner growing up. But to be the best at something, Tailey knew she was going to push herself harder and attempt new challenges.
“I was trying different events and running the 200 (-meter sprint), but nothing was really clicking for me,” Tailey said. “During my sophomore year, Coach (Rashida Stamps) told me to try hurdles and I got the hang of it pretty quick. But I was scared at first.”
And with good reason. Trial doesn’t usually come without error, and Tailey had her fair share of battles with leaping over the waist-high obstacles at full speed.
“I didn’t fall, but I kept hitting my knee on the hurdles and I would get bruises,” she said. “But I didn’t want to stop. I was like, ‘I can do this.’ ”
Not only did she finish every race, Tailey now holds the school record in the 100-meter and 300-meter hurdle events as well as a share in the school’s 4×100 relay record. She was the Philadelphia Public League champion in the 100 hurdles last year and made her first appearance at the PIAA state championships.
“She took on hurdles as a personal challenge,” Stamps said. “Before her, we never really had any hurdlers. She’s made me a better coach, as she and I kind of learned by working together. The impact she’s made on me as a coach will last forever.”
Tailey’s toughness and her determination isn’t hard to trace. Her parents fled the bloodshed and destruction of the civil war-torn West African nation of Liberia as young adults to start a new life, while leaving everything else behind.
Her father, Prince, was 19 at the time and arrived first in the U.S. via a green card lottery and joined the military. He then brought Ivelle’s mother and older brother to the U.S. to reunite the family. Ivelle was born shortly after.
“I come from a strong household that is very hard-working,” Tailey said. “They came here from nothing and made something.”
Her father was commissioned into the Navy’s Medical Services Corps after 10 years of enlisted service in the Marine Corps. Last year, Tailey was promoted to Navy lieutenant commander at the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support in Philadelphia, where he serves as the Customer Electronic Catalogue/Medical Surgical Operations Center branch chief for DLA Troop Support’s medical supply chain.
Her mother, Naomi, is a nurse, and is extremely inspirational in Ivelle’s future path of pursuing medicine. Ivelle wants to study biology in college and hopes to be an osteopathic doctor working in alternative medicine. In a time when the world is crippled by an infectious disease, Tailey wants to be nowhere else but the front lines.
“This crisis came up and if you want to be a doctor, you’re going to be on the front lines,” Tailey said. “It made me think that when I reach that point, I’m going to be able to be out there and help make a difference. Doctors and nurses are putting it all out there right now.”
She draws her courage from her mother.
“She always supports me and encourages me,” Ivelle said. “My parents are very inspiring. There’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to accomplish what I want to accomplish because I have all the resources that they didn’t have.”
And she’s taken advantage of her opportunity. Ivelle has a 4.0 grade point average and is a member of National Honor Society and student government at the Academy at Palumbo. She also helped launch a mentoring program with a few of her classmates called “Mentor Me,” which helps younger students navigate the process of applying for colleges.
“When we got to senior year, a lot of our friends were feeling overwhelmed with the whole college application process,” she said. “They felt like they couldn’t find much advice before they got to senior year. We had been through it and we felt like we could start a club to help younger students like freshmen and sophomores to get advice from juniors or seniors. We can all feel more prepared when we get to senior year.”
Tailey is still weighing her options on which school to attend next year, but she knows running will likely not be a part of her college experience, due to the high work demand of her major. Possibly losing her entire senior high school spring track season to the COVID-19 pandemic made that realization all the more heartbreaking.
“I was really upset because we’ve been working hard,” Tailey said. “I did what I wanted during indoor season, dropping my times. I thought when I got to outdoor season I was really going to do what I wanted to do. I was going to make it to states again and get on the podium. I’m devastated that I don’t get to meet those goals.”
Whether she runs again for the Griffins or not this season, Tailey will have left her mark in the record books and on the program for future generations.
“She’s probably the most remarkable athlete we’ve had in terms of commitment and dedication,” Stamps said. “She’s the earmark of our program. She’s that special.”