Kovalakides, Girven Leave Strong Legacy
July 16, 2012
By Ashlyn Sinclair
As most every track and field athlete has done, you can imagine the worst-case scenario happening on your competition day. For some, that is forgetting your lucky socks or hairband, or perhaps even arriving at the starting line just two minutes before the gun. But for one of our alumni, Nick Kovalakides, his most memorable moment as a Maryland athlete was the day when he forgot something critical to his being competitive... his spikes.
As a Terp, Nick was an Atlantic Coast Conference discus champion, twice an ACC shot put champion and twice an ACC javelin champion. His mark of 239 feet, 2-1/2 inches in the javelin as a sophomore was a school record in 1959 and still ranks as the eighth best all-time at Maryland under the old javelin regulations. He also placed second in the javelin at the 1963 Pan American Games in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
As a Terp assistant coach, his five javelin throwers swept the ACC event in 1967, and as head coach, his teams won five indoor and outdoor ACC championships (1970-1974). He was inducted into the University of Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001 and into the Princeton (NJ) High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2010.
So why would the day you forgot your spikes be one of your most memorable moments of Maryland track?
It was at Downing Stadium just outside New York City in 1961. He was a senior about to compete in the IC4A javelin, which he had won twice before. As he says, "What made it quite memorable was a fortunate coincidence."
Because the javelin event was scheduled in the morning, Nick and his javelin coach, Jack Ruckert, took a taxi to the meet from their mid-town Manhattan hotel. But while having his javelin weighed in by the officials, he noticed that his spikes were missing. He had last seen them in the cab. Well, after asking around for extra spikes, it seemed like Nick would have to compete in his flats. As he began his warm-up throws before the competition started, a stadium usher appeared at the javelin runway carrying Nick's spikes. What was immediately apparent was that the taxi driver's next fare was another athlete heading to the IC4A's and said, "Please take them out to the Maryland javelin thrower."
Of course, Nick won that day.
Nick's story does not end with his athletic accomplishments. During his 34-year career at the University, he ran the men's Intramural Sports Program for 21 years, coordinated the events (about 220 weddings annually) at Memorial Chapel and directed the campus Visitor Center for 10 years.
Between 1980 and 2007, he also was the PA announcer for the football games in Byrd Stadium and the basketball games in Cole Field House. He also found time to write three books... Towards Better Soccer Officiating, Men's Track and Field at the University of Maryland - Its First 101 Years - 1984-1994, and Tommy the Tree - Will he get his Christmas Wish?
Currently, in retirement, Nick volunteers at the welcome desk of the Sarasota (Fla.) Senior Friendship Center, the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens and ushers at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, as well as enjoying his free time solving crossword and jigsaw puzzles, singing karaoke and playing golf.
Nick's life goal should probably be adopted by us all, "Enjoy life for as long as you can."
Paula Girven was then-head coach Frank Costello's first choice for an athlete when he learned that there would be a women's track & field team added to the University of Maryland sports program. Costello had seen her jump while still in high school and saw the potential.
Paula chose Maryland and in doing so became the first African-American woman to receive a scholarship at Maryland. She later went on to became a two-time Olympian (1976 and 1980), winner of the U.S. Olympic Trials, a NCAA champion (1976 Indoor & Outdoor), and an All-American (1978 and 1980).
She also left her mark on the Maryland record books by becoming the school record holder in the high jump, both indoors and outdoors, and indoors in the 55-meter hurdles. Costello said that Paula was "the best female (track & field) athlete we ever had at Maryland" due to her extreme versatility and athleticism.
Paula's favorite memories of Maryland Track is winning the 880 yards in a pentathlon competition and handing the relay baton off first in a 4x400 relay. These were significant to her because "I was known as `the Olympic jumper.' I surprised people that I could run too."
After achieving so much athletically, Paula is still busy being an active citizen.
Paula, mother of two and a grandmother of three living in Georgia, is an active church-member where she is and volunteers in the nursery working with 2-year-olds. Paula started her career as a lifeguard when she was 17, and then became a personal trainer in the 1980s. She says her favorite occupation was being a Delta Airlines radio operator because of the perks of free flights.
However, due to the 9-11 World Trade Center crash, she became a dedicated personal trainer where she works 10+ hour days. Since then Paula has helped many people lose weight, get in shape, become fit, and in the process become a lifesaver, literally. She conducted CPR on a gentleman who had collapsed due to a 99 percent blockage of the coronary artery. Because of Paula's quick response, the man is alive today.
It seems that Paula lends a helping hand wherever she goes. One day in a store parking lot, Paula helped a deaf woman who was having chest pains communicate with nurses. She has also nursed her mother and father in their times of need.
When not helping others, Paula likes to act and model. She has modeled for a local Atlanta skin care company and been an extra in the movies "Madea Goes to Jail" and "Remember the Titans."
At 54, Paula has traveled to many places including Alaska, Great Britain, Italy, Russia, Austria, the Swiss Alps, Germany, Finland, Jamaica, Canada and all over America.
After all she has accomplished, Paula's greatest moments in life have been as a caregiver for her mother and father and experiencing a true-life miracle when her foot was healed after stepping on a nail while getting ready for a three-mile run.
Paula is a true role model for current and future Maryland athletes.