Makenli Forrest ’21 distinctly remembers spotting the poster of track and field athletes on one of the walls of Cardinal Park when she visited UofL during her junior year of high school as a recruit.
“Who are those people?” she asked the head coach, Dale Cowper, who explained that they were the program’s national champions.
In that moment, the eager prospect knew she would one day join the likes of D’Ana McCarty ’11, Edwin Kibichy, Tone Belt and Andre Black ’10 on the side of Cardinal Park.
Shortly after, in 2017, Forrest, a weight thrower, became a Cardinal and began making her mark. By the end of her 2019 sophomore campaign, she was an NCAA runner-up in the weight throw and had made appearances in each indoor and outdoor NCAA championship since she became a Cardinal.
On March 12, 2020, she was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, preparing to improve on her runner-up finish at her third NCAA Indoor Championship, but the meet never began. Just two days before she was set to compete, Forrest received word that all winter and spring NCAA championships were canceled.
Heartbroken but driven, Forrest was quick to get back to work.
“I knew I would have been a contender for national champion,” Forrest said. “It made me work harder to become one my senior year. I wanted to make sure I did, especially for Coach Cowper.”
On March 11, 2021, that drive earned Forrest a spot on the Cardinal Park wall. The moment she dreamed of since she was a junior in high school had finally come. With a school record heave of 23.26 meters (76 feet, 3.75 inches) on her sixth and final attempt, the redshirt junior became a national champion.
But that drive was not limited to the throwing ring. Athletic achievements are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the student-athlete’s accomplishments.
Not only did she become a national champion in 2021, she also graduated with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science, earned ACC Scholar-Athlete of the Year honors and was nominated for the NCAA’s Woman of the Year Award among many other accolades.
“Obviously, we broadcast our athletic achievements, but to have my academic achievements highlighted on top of everything was amazing because I go to practice and weights every day but I still have to get my work done,” Forrest said of her ACC Scholar-Athlete of the Year award. “That’s why I’m here. I’m a student-athlete.”
The real prize, though second to her degree, was her Woman of the Year nomination.
“That felt really good to know that they see the work that I’m doing and see what I’ll ultimately be able to accomplish,” Forrest said.
One of Forrest’s biggest goals is to empower others. Her Woman of the Year nomination stemmed not only from her athletic and academic achievements but also her leadership role among student-athletes. In the 2020-2021 academic year, Forrest served as an ACC representative on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and took on the role of co-president of Student-Athletes of Color Combining Opportunity and Responsibility for Excellence (SCORE).
Forrest, who decided not to return for a fifth year of eligibility after graduation, now has her photo on the side of Cardinal Park, but she wants her impact to be bigger than that. The 2021-22 indoor track and field season began in December. Six Cardinal women and 10 Cardinal men are vying to follow in Forrest’s throws.
“I want what I’ve accomplished to create more opportunities for throwers here,” Forrest said. “When I talk about my national title, sometimes I minimize it because people don’t understand, but I shouldn’t do that. I want people to see the success our program can have.”