Then there was something that his grandfather had once told him: "If a man can go work his own hours and make a living out of doing something he loves to do, you would think he would go out and be the best he can at it."
That was all Kingdom needed to hear. He found an orthopedist in Pittsburgh, Dr. Freddie Fu, who put Kingdom on a program that included ultrasound, stretching and massage therapy. Soon he was training seriously again.
"I was at my peak when I got injured, and I decided I didn't want to go out that way," Kingdom says. "I had to fight back to show people I was legit. I was making some progress; then in January my grandfather died. After that I bottomed out."
Matt Wallace, Roger's grandfather, had been the bedrock of the Kingdom family. A stern but loving man who at 6'6" was also physically imposing, Wallace had exerted a profound influence on Roger while he was growing up, and more after his mother and father separated, when he was in high school. Roger and his four brothers and one sister spent as much time as possible playing and working on the 300-acre farm in Vienna, Ga., 50 miles south of Macon, where Wallace raised peanuts, cotton and watermelons. Recalls Kingdom: "Nothing but trees around and open fields. If I felt like working out, I would go out in the fields and run all the way to the woods and back. Most of the fields were freshly plowed, so it was like running in sand."
All the Kingdoms were athletic. Roger's oldest brother, Roy, was state high school champ in the 440 and also competed in the shot and discus, while his sister, Lorrye, was state champ in the 110-yard hurdles. But Roger was special. In his junior and senior years at Vienna High, he won state titles in an unusual triple—the 120-yard hurdles, the high jump and the discus, setting state Class-AA records in the hurdles (13.7) and the high jump (6'10�") during his senior year.
In both his junior and senior years he won the award as the outstanding track and field athlete in Georgia; in his junior year he beat out a senior named Herschel Walker.
Kingdom was equally impressive on the football field, earning all-state honors at running back. He decided to go to Pitt on a full football scholarship because Panther coach Jackie Sherrill was willing to let him run track in the spring. As a freshman in 1981, Kingdom rushed just four times, for nine yards. The next year Foge Fazio, who had been Pitt's defensive coordinator, replaced Sherrill as head coach and moved Kingdom to free safety. "I would have liked to have stayed at running back," says Kingdom, who concentrated on track after he chose to be a red-shirt as a junior.
Kingdom's football career sagged, but his track career blossomed. At Pitt he met two people who would have a huge impact on his hurdling. One was Elbert Kennedy, the coach of both the Pitt women's track team and the New Image Track Club in Pittsburgh. The soft-spoken Kennedy was primarily a sprint coach, but he and his pupil learned about hurdling from each other. By his sophomore year Kingdom had lowered his personal best to a world-class 13.44.
The second major influence was Joy Shepard, a physics major from New York City whom Kingdom began dating during his freshman year. After Kennedy left Pitt in 1985, he couldn't spend as much time with Kingdom, and the analytical Shepard became his day-to-day coach. What she didn't know about the event she learned from listening to Roger and other hurdlers and by studying films. "I had film coming out of my eyeballs," she says, groaning. Coach and athlete now share a two-bed room apartment in Monroeville, just east of Pittsburgh.
In one respect, Shepard and Kennedy have allowed Kingdom to depart from classic hurdling technique by not trying to convert him into an elegant performer. After all, they say, the point of hurdling well is simply to get back down on the ground as soon as possible. So Kingdom eschews the classic straight-legged style used by such past greats as Rod Milburn and Willie Davenport. Instead, he hurdles with his lead leg intentionally bent.