The Southern Miss track and field team has added one of the more recognizable names in international sprinting to its coaching staff.
Golden Eagles head coach Kevin Stephen announced today that Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie, a recently-retired world-class sprinter and member of the famed "Golden Girls" of the Bahamas, has been added to the staff and will train both male and female sprinters.
Ferguson-McKenzie, who will make her coaching debut at Southern Miss, was a specialist at the 100- and 200-meter sprints, represented the Bahamas in five Olympic Games - Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012 - and was a three-time Olympic medalist and four-time medalist at world championships.
"It is very exciting to have someone of Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie's pedigree here at Southern Miss," Stephen said. "She brings to the table several years of track and field experience and connections. The hard work and dedication she used to become an Olympic Gold Medalist will no doubt translate well to her coaching career. Her skill set fits perfectly with my vision for my program and I see her presence being felt immediately in the area of recruiting. In addition to her resume, Debbie's high energy level, impeccable character and love for student-athletes made her a clear choice."
That such a renowned name in track and field has landed with the Southern Miss program can be traced back to a meeting between Stephen and Ferguson-McKenzie, who've known each other through mutual association via the CARIFTA Games for many years.
"I believe deeply in faith," Ferguson-McKenzie said, "and nothing in my life, whether in my professional track career or now going to the other side of the fence in coaching, has happened by mistake. Maybe two years ago, I ran into Coach Stephen in an airport and he asked me what I planned to do after my professional career ended and I said I'd like to get into coaching. That moment planted the seed."
Having run her last professional race in 2013's Central American and Caribbean Championships, Ferguson-McKenzie, who has served as a volunteer coach at Miami and Pure Athletics, began searching for a start to her professional coaching career.
"I got a call from Coach Stephen and he told me that Southern Miss was looking for a sprint coach," she said. "I thought this was the perfect place for me at this point in my life and my career. I wanted to be a Golden Eagle. I'm excited to be here and look forward to the opportunity."
Ferguson-McKenzie began running on the international level as a junior athlete in 1990 and was a member of the silver-medal winning 400-meter relay team in the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. She is perhaps best known to international track fans as anchor of the Bahamas' 2000 Olympic gold medal 400-meter relay team alongside Savatheda Fynes, Chandra Sturrup, Pauline Davis-Thompson and Eldece Lewis.
"One of my main objectives here at Southern Miss is to train an athlete to know and experience this true meaning of what it takes to be a student-athlete," Ferguson-McKenzie said. "Even after graduation, those characteristics learned such as discipline, dedication, diligence, and so on will also assist them to become productive, proficient and outstanding individuals."
The team, which was coined the "Golden Girls," produced Bahamas' first Olympic gold medal in any women's sport and first Olympic gold of any kind since a men's sailing medal in 1964. The quintet rose to such fame in their home country that they were honored with a large mural in the Nassau International Airport.
In 2004, Ferguson-McKenzie earned her first individual Olympic medal, a bronze in the 200-meter sprint. She also holds two gold medals from world championships, one earned in the 400-meter relay in 1999 and a second from the 200-meter sprint in 2001. She also won a silver in the 400-meter relay and bronze in the 200-meter sprint in the 2009 world championships.
Including her Olympic and world championship medals, Ferguson-McKenzie has won 52 medals in international competition and was a 10-time Bahamas national champion in the 100- and 200-meter sprints.
She is also a former Georgia Bulldog track star, NCAA champion and 1999 graduate of that institution. Outside of track, she has built a reputation as an ambassador of good will and charitable work.
She has served since 1994 as a motivational speaker, mentor and teen pregnancy counselor and has worked with the Willamae Pratt Center for Girls and Simpson Penn Center for Boys as well as the Bahamas Humane Society.
She has been a member of the IAAF Athlete's Commission and conducted clinics for children in locations such as Clermont, Fla., and Lausanne and Zurich, Switzerland.
In 2002, Ferguson-McKenzie was nominated a Goodwill Ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.