News & Updates

7 February 2024 • Track and Field

Kimberley bolsters New Zealand middle-distance stocks

Kiwi and Providence College student Kimberley May is excelling on the US collegiate circuit.

Last month Kimberley May produced a breakout performance to become the second fastest New Zealand women’s miler of all-time. We chat to the 20-year-old US-based athlete to find out more about her exciting running journey.

Just what is it about Providence College and helping develop Kiwi endurance talent?

Former students at the Rhode Island-based university include multiple New Zealand record-holder Kim Smith, current national men’s 5000m champion Julian Oakley and reigning national women’s 1500m and 5000m champion Laura Nagel.

And now Kimberley May is the latest Kiwi to be heading in the same direction after the Aucklander wiped almost ten seconds from her lifetime best to run 4:27.85 at the John Thomas Terrier Classic in Boston last month to climb to number two on the all-time mile lists – coincidentally behind Smith.

The 20-year-old Providence College student produced a wonderful post-race look of bewilderment and outward joy at her accomplishment – a moment which will live long in her memory.

“It’s been crazy, fun and exciting,” says Kimberley of her breakthrough mile performance. “The main goal was to get the national (NCAA Indoor Championships) qualifier of 4:31. I had a few good workouts where we knew that if I had a good race, I could run 4:29 but I did not think 4:27 was possible.”

On her post-race reaction, she adds: “Oh, I didn’t mean to be that dramatic. But I am very dramatic and emotional. That is why it is good that Ray (Treacy, her coach) is very calm.”

Hailing from the West Auckland suburb of Titirangi, Kimberley’s sporting journey could easily have lurched in another direction. Both her mum and dad are karate black belts and encouraged by her parents, Kimberley too achieved the same feat in her youth. However, after impressing in primary school cross country races she decided on a different path.

Aged “around 12” Kimberley decided ditch karate to focus on running – a decision that was not easy.

“At first I was a bit scared what my dad would say, but it was no problem, and my dad has gone on to love running,” she explains.

A regular middle-distance finalist at national age-group events Kimberley boasted promise, however it was only after linking up with coach Graeme Holden at Auckland City Athletics, did she make real progress.

In 2020 she advanced from a national finalist to the podium, taking New Zealand U20 800m and 1500m medals in Christchurch and climaxed a breakthrough year with another 1500m silver at the New Zealand Secondary Schools Track & Field Championships.

“Graeme was a very good coach who really knew what he was doing and that is when my times started to drop,” explains Kimberley. “As I’ve said, I’m very dramatic and emotional, but Graeme was very calm. If I had a good or bad race, I always got the same response which is what I really like as it keeps me grounded and stable.”

Keen to explore the opportunities that an American college scholarship could offer and having heard about the reputation of Providence College helping past Kiwi athletes – including Nagel whom she spent some time training with when she was back home in Auckland at Christmas – it made sense for her to pursue this option.

Conducting a couple of online meetings with Providence College head coach Ray Treacy she was immediately impressed by the Irishman as were her parents.

“After I talked to Ray both mum and dad said, ‘you are going to Providence!’ It just clicked. He has developed me so much as an athlete. He has so much wisdom and is very grounded and I trust him. He also does not operate a one-size-fits-all approach to his training group and will set an individualised programme for each athlete.”

Arriving at Providence in August 2021 she took a little time to adapt to her new surroundings. However, inspired by being part a team environment she quickly started to excel and in her freshman year she hacked more than five-and-a-half seconds from her 1500m PB down to 4:23.73.

“Very happy” with her first season at college her 2023 track and field campaign went even better. Benefiting from another year of the ‘strength-based’ training under Treacy she set national U20 1000m (2:42.78) and mile records (4:37.61) and whittled her 1500m PB down to 4:13.14, reaching the 1500m semi-finals at the NCAA Championships in Austin, Texas. Describing the feat as a “turning point” Kimberley added: “I’d gained a lot of confidence through that year just by making it through the first round of the NCAA. Having that experience is so important.”

Not only was it a memorable event for the West Aucklander, the women’s 1500m at the 2023 NCAA Championships was also momentous for fellow Kiwi Maia Ramsden who struck gold in that event. Ramsden, a Havard University student, is based only around an hour away from Kimberley in the US and the pair have struck up an excellent friendship.

“I love Maia, she is so inspiring,” explains Kimberley. “It is always nice to race her, we talk after the race. We have a cute friendship.”

Under the wise guidance of Treacy she has made further improvements during the 2023-24 indoor campaign. In December she posted a 3000m debut time of 8:54.16 in Boston and in mid-January scalped more than half-a-second from her 800m PB with a 2:04.47 clocking in Brighton, USA. That mile performance at Boston University offered further evidence as to her current shape and she was delighted to receive a congratulatory message from Kim Smith, who has seen her Providence College record erased.

But Kimberley is realistic and acknowledges bigger goals lie ahead.

“As much as I’m excited my progress, I just need to remember that the main goal for the indoor season is indoor (NCAA) nationals (in Boston 8-9 March). I want to walk away from that meet knowing I have no regrets and not make any stupid mistakes.”

Beyond that she will hope to go one step further than 2023 and make the NCAA 1500m outdoor final in Eugene in June while in the long term she harbours ambitions to represent her country at Olympic Games and World Championships.

Yet whatever the future holds the sociology major hopes to continue to enjoy the sport – which has enriched her life and given her so much.

“I just love that feeling that no matter what you are going through during the day, that after a run you feel so much better,” she explains. “I’m also so grateful for the relationships I’ve built through running – I now have best friends in Ireland, England, Canada and America that I otherwise would not have met had I not done running.”

New Zealand all-time top five women’s milers

Kim Smith 4:24.14 (2008)

Kimberley May 4:27.85 (2024)

Maia Ramsden 4:30.19 (2023)

Chrissie Pfitzinger 4:30.50 (1987)

Nikki Hamblin 4:31.16 (2016)