With wings beneath her feet, VCU’s Kiara Porter 8th in 400m

Kiara Porter is heading to her third NCAA Track and Field Championships. (Courtesy VCU Athletics)

Flying across country and flying around the track are nothing new to VCU’s 400-meter specialist Kiara Porter. Traveling from Richmond, Va., to Eugene, Ore., for the NCAA Track and Field National Championships are old hat for Porter.

While completing her third trip to the Eugene, Porter experienced the “friendly skies” at a much younger age — five months old.

Gail Hannah, Porter’s mother, was a service officer in the Air Force and was deployed four times to the Middle East. Each trip meant Kiara traveled to live with a family friend or relative.

But the air travel wasn’t what compelled Kiara to such speeds. She discovered that family trait after Hannah retired from the military.

Before Hannah was deployed to Saudi Arabia in the spring of 1994, she took baby Kiara to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to stay with her aunt and cousins.

Hannah’s next three deployments were spaced out over the next 12 years. She was a single mother who lived just 15 miles south of Langley Air Force base in Yorktown, Va.. That made it possible for her to raise Kiara a majority of the time.

“I lived with my mom a lot growing up,” Porter said. “When it was time for me to start school though I normally stayed with my godmother.”

Porter’s godmother, Kashondra Bailey, was a friend of Hannah’s who lived in nearby Hampton. Bailey and Hannah had been stationed together at Langley.

Hannah’s deployments lasted anywhere from three to six months. Fortunately her duties as a service officer kept her off the front lines but she was still stationed in hostile territories. Hannah did the best she could to spend time stateside with her daughter for holidays and her birthday.

“I remember one Christmas though,” Hannah recalled. “It was December 23. I had just got back. There was no Christmas tree in the house and Kiara and I are running around trying to decorate, looking for stockings. That was the one year it was last minute.”

When Porter was in  seventh grade, she and her mother, found a box of keepsakes from Hannah’s high school years. Hannah was a track star at Boyd H. Anderson High School in Fort Lauderdale, specializing in the 100 and 200 meters and the 4×100 relay team. That was the first time Porter had heard about her mom’s athletic ability.

“I was always the fastest kid on the playground,” Porter said. “It never clicked with me that maybe mom was fast. I knew that was the sport I wanted to do when she told me what she did in high school.”

Like her mom, Porter’s high school track accomplishments were chronicled. Porter was Tabb High School’s most valuable female athlete all of her four years. She broke the state’s 400 meter time in the state championships.

At VCU, Porter has been a five-time Atlantic 10 champion, an All-American honorable mention, and gold medal winner at the IAAF World Junior Championships. After finishing eighth in Saturday’s NCAA 400-meter finals, Porter earned her school-record fifth All-American honor.

Porter runs different sprint distances and has been a part of relays team during at VCU. She’s in Eugene for one race: the 400 meters.

“I’ve been successful because of my determination and discipline,” Porter said. “After the first trip to nationals my sophomore year I started putting my race together and being a better athlete. I’ve dedicated myself to it and put a lot of work in at practice and the weight room.”

Hannah goes to three or four meets a year to see Porter run. She didn’t fly to Eugene. She just plans to sit in from of her computer and watch her daughter doing the flying — around the track.

Keith Chartrand

Keith Chartrand

Keith Chartrand is a freelance writer based in Ocala, Fla.