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UK Wildcats: Where Are They Now? A Q&A with Josh Nadzam

NADZAM 300LEXINGTON, Ky. (10/25/13) – Josh Nadzam has a need for speed.

A former University of Kentucky track and field star, Nadzam, went from starting out as a walk-on, to becoming one of the fastest runners in the SEC. Since graduation, he's not slowed down a bit. Nadzam is now racing toward achieving his dream, founding a branch of the Manchester Bidwell Corporation in Lexington. Manchester Bidwell is a non-profit center with two main components, a visual arts after school program for at-risk youth and an adult job training program for unemployed, underemployed and displaced workers.

Currently, Manchester Bidwell is operating in eight different locations across the country, using aesthetically healing atmospheres to change lives. Nadzam plans to make Lexington the ninth location. I spoke with Nadzam about his experiences at UK, and how his own poverty stricken past is now leading him to a successful future.

DG – Tell me about some of your best memories of being a UK Wildcat?

JN – Just the journey itself. I'd never visited Kentucky or anything like that. I just applied online, got accepted and came on down. That's one of my biggest memories. Coming down not knowing a single person, never visited the campus, and just diving right in and really fighting hard from being a walk-on to eventually getting a full scholarship, which was really cool. Also, some big memories were just all the great teammates I had and coaches, especially Coach Don Weber. He was the main one to believe in me. He really didn't have any reason to. He's coached SEC champions, Olympians and national champions. He didn't have to waste his time with me, but he really believed in me and helped me so much. That I'll always be very thankful for.

I'd say another highlight that meant a lot to me was winning the Wilma Rudolph award. It's a national award given to student athletes, who have overcome significant adversity in their lives. Another highlight that I loved was the UK Track and Field Shoe Drive that Luis Orta, Hiruni Wijayaratne and myself started. In three years, we've collected over 10,000 pairs of shoes to donate to those who do not have any.

DG – Going from a walk-on to one of the best runners in the SEC is a real accomplishment. What did it take for you to be able to do this?

JN – It took a lot of persistence, patience and dedication. I really dedicated myself to everything from not just working in practice, but making sure I always got eight hours of sleep and was eating right. It was just a lot of hard work and really focusing on just getting a little bit better every day and knowing that it wasn't going to come instantly. There were a lot of days I got my butt kicked. It was hard to stay positive. But, my coach always taught me to believe in myself. Eventually, I started making little breakthroughs, so that helped me see some light at the end of the tunnel.

DG – Being someone who has overcome a number of struggles, is there one person who inspires you to continue to push forward and achieve your goals?

JN – All of these opportunities that I've had as an athlete, and now with what I'm doing with my life, have really been because of my mom's sacrifices. She was a welfare mom, but that didn't matter. She really worked tirelessly at miserable jobs, all to raise me. She was so selfless. Every opportunity I have, when I was an athlete traveling the country, that was all because of the opportunities she created for me. She could have been lazy or really sulked about our situation. I always want to thank her and give her a lot of credit.

Also, I can't express how grateful I am for the opportunities UK Athletics gave me. Anything we needed academically and athletically, they helped us achieve. I especially want to thank Mike Pirrman, Dustin Lewis, Mitch Barnhart, Bob Bradley, Coach Weber, Donna Cox, and everyone else such as the trainers, coaches, advisors, anyone else who helped us achieve our dreams.

DG – Tell me about the Manchester Bidwell Replication Project. How did you get involved with it?

JN – I grew up in the projects, and was in poverty, on food stamps and welfare. I've always had the dream of doing something really big to help people, especially children in similar circumstances. One day I was reading Bill Strickland's book, 'Make The Impossible Possible'. He's the guy who started Manchester Bidwell. I was so inspired. It was the first time I've felt like anybody actually valued the type of environment I grew up in, and type of people I grew up with.

So, I read his book, and actually went to check out his center at Manchester Bidwell in Pittsburgh. I had the opportunity to meet him. I got to talking with him, and I had decided I wanted to do this in Lexington. When I came back, I just started meeting with everyone I could and really started rallying up a lot of support. So many people became interested in it. So I started raising money. Bill came down. I worked with Mayor Gray a little bit on it. Mayor Gray actually presented Bill the key to the city of Lexington. Together, we kicked it off. Ever since then, it's just been a crazy awesome journey.

DG – So, where are you now with the Manchester Bidwell Replication Project?

JN – Well, Bill Strickland actually came back on September 27. On that day, we met with a lot of potential donors, a lot of people who are very interested in this and want to help out. These people are very well-known in the community, but also in the business world and have the resources to basically fund it. We met with them, and it was very productive. We're now in the process of following up with everyone. Some people made some pledges for donations. Some people talked about some other commitments. Now, we're just trying to piece it all together. Then, there's been some little things. John's Run Walk Shop helped to raise some money through a half marathon they had. The UK School of Journalism, their students are working on a PR campaign for this project. Then we've been just doing a lot of student committee meetings, and community meetings. I think there's 270 people that are involved in some way right now.

DG – What is it that makes you so passionate about bringing this type of program to Lexington?

JN – I overcame some tough situations. Even if I became a billionaire, I would always identify with people in poverty. That's just who I connect to. It's who I feel the most connected with. It's kind of like if you survive an avalanche. It's like you escape it. But now I want to go back and help people still in that situation. I know there's so many great people just in terrible circumstances. It's just a shame those people get looked down upon and condemned for different things. I really believe everybody has potential. I just want to do everything I can to help others overcome situations that may have been similar to my own, or may even be dramatically worse.

DG – What are your biggest needs for the project at this time?

JN – The biggest need at the moment to get it off the ground is funds. I always talk about how every dollar counts. Some people may roll their eyes with that. To this point, there's over $18,000 raised. Most of it has been $5 and $10 donations, just from friends and people in the community.

DG – What do you see for the future of this project, and for yourself?

JN – There's been a lot of talks already about opening similar centers in different parts of Kentucky, especially eastern Kentucky where there's even bigger poverty issues. I could really see that happening, where we start to replicate the Lexington center outwards to different areas in Kentucky. As far as me, I would be just completely dedicated to this. This is just my dream and I'd still be chasing it and growing it as much as I can.

For more information on the Manchester Bidwell Replication Project or to donate to the cause, visit the Lexington site by clicking here. Nadzam said large donations are now handled through their fiscal sponsor, the Bluegrass Community Foundation, and are tax deductible. Smaller donations can be made by clicking here.

Do you have an idea for an upcoming Q&A session with a former UK athlete? E-mail me your suggestions at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

David Gillum
SurfKY News
Photo provided by UK Athletics

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