TAMPA — The first voice she hears belongs to her first cousin. The starter’s pistol fires, King High School sprinter Carrol Hardy blasts off, and Peter Morohundiya is triggered.
His robust baritone bellow always beats her to the finish line.
“I push and I jog with her last little 10 yards, while she blows past me,” Peter says with a chuckle. “I want to support her with everything I’ve got, everything I can give for her.”
He’s a striking paradox, this burly, bearded dude. The guy with three bulging discs and a herniated one is Carrol’s backbone. Had Peter not been there when death got an inside track on her very psyche, when she lost not one but two moms, Carrol might have been lost.
Instead, she loses everyone else.
The field had no chance when Carrol took the Lions’ baton for the third leg of the 4x100-meter relay final at the recent USF/Steinbrenner Invitational.
King ultimately finished second to Lakeland Kathleen, but Carrol’s burst on the final turn, when she gave her team the lead, was striking. Earlier in the afternoon, Carrol had won the 100 in a photo finish. She also finished second in the 200, which attracted 81 runners.
“Everybody has told me I need to move her to second leg of the relay,” Lions coach Gary Bingham said. “And I’m like, no, because every race we’ve ever been in, if she gets the baton within any distance of anybody, she (wins) because she hammers the turn so well.”
It’s part of the formula that enabled Carrol to sign a letter of intent with Western Kentucky University in February. Bingham has helped Carrol use her lower-body power to navigate the turns for home, only after Peter helped her avoid a turn for the worse.
Today, dad is one of the many endearing titles she gives him. Peter is her legal guardian.
“He’s actually my cousin, but he’s earned the right to be my brother,” Carrol says. “He’s my best friend, he’s my brother, he’s my dad, he’s my everything. It’s like, all in one rolled up.”
Carrol’s track career emerged from the proverbial blocks very late. She participated in three meets as an eighth-grader at Franklin Middle Magnet School, but acknowledges she didn’t train for them.
To this day, she’s not crazy about the sport.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to really like the sport you’re good at,” she said. “You’re never supposed to like practice. Practice isn’t supposed to be fun, it’s supposed to be hard work. …If I’m having fun I know there’s a problem.”
Misery already has led her to one medal stand and could guide her to more. Last year’s Class 3A state runnerup in the 200, she also won a county title in the 100. A trio of medals this spring isn’t implausible.
“Carrol will do a mile before she goes and runs the 200,” said Freedom multi-event star and fellow WKU signee Sandra Akachukwu, who ran with Hardy at King as a freshman and sophomore.
“She’s just basically always wanting to make sure she gives 110 percent in what she does. Her team will go like, two laps, and she’ll do six laps. She’ll keep going.”
At the dawn of her career, adversity already occupied Lane 1.
Carrol, who has four half-siblings, never has known her father. Her biological mom, Freezator Hardy, battled mental disorders including schizophrenia, Peter said.
As a result, Freezator’s sister, Altha Morohundiya, essentially raised Carrol with the help of her two older boys. Peter, 34, even recalls changing Carrol’s diapers and braiding her hair.
“I call her mother because she took me when I was 2 years old and she sort of played the mother role,” Carrol said. “She’s not my biological (mom) but she was there up until I was (12).”
Tragedy arrived with adolescence. Carrol arrived home from Robles Elementary one afternoon to find Altha writhing on the floor in convulsive twitches.
According to Peter, his mom had suffered a massive stroke. She would remain in a vegetative state more than a year before dying Sept. 14, 2006. Fourteen months later, Carrol’s biological mom died of cancer. Carrol was 13.
“So it’s kind of like, ‘Oh man,’ because I had a lot of questions that I didn’t get a chance to ask her,” Carrol said following a frigid workout on a spring-break morning at King’s track.
“And I wasn’t going to ask them while she was in that state. I just tried to let her know everything’s going to be okay, even though I sort of knew it wasn’t. I just tried to keep her happy while she had a little time left.”
When time ran out, Carrol suddenly found herself bereft of a parent — but not a parental figure. Almost instinctively, Peter embarked on the process of fees, formalities and paperwork. In roughly a year, he had legally adopted her.
“The one thing that always gets me is everybody says, ‘Oh that’s so wonderful, you’re such a great guy,’ ” Peter said.
“And I’m like, ‘I don’t understand why because that’s what families should do.’ If there’s a problem and something needs to be done, family should take care of family always.”
Today, it’s a family of five. Peter and wife Paulette Coachman (“Big Paulie”) also are raising Serenity, Peter’s 11-year-old daughter from a previous relationship; and his 13-year-old stepdaughter, Paulette Thomas (“Little Paulie”).
Carrol cherishes the household, more so these days since she nearly lost a parent for the third time about a month ago. A vehicle coming off the Interstate 4 ramp at Columbus Avenue plowed into the driver’s side of Peter’s 2004 Expedition, leaving him with the excessive disc damage.
A former banker, he can’t work right now, so he works himself into a froth instead. Just watch him at meets.
“He’s always, like, screaming,” Akachukwu says. “Basically on his toes.”
“At times, I’m like a father, then I’ll thump her in the head like a big brother,” Peter says. “When anybody asks me how many children I have, I say 2 1/2. I always tell everybody it’s a blurred role.”
Stands to reason. His adoptive teen is a 5-foot-5 blur herself. Carrol’s season-best times in the 100 (11.86 seconds) and 200 (24.59) rank 17th and 22nd in the nation, respectively, for 2013.
“He and I have built a good relationship in dealing with her and how to make this all come together in the end,” Bingham said. “And hopefully the reward is a state title for her as an end result.”
Joey Knight can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JoeyHomeTeam.