North Carolina hurdler Kenny Selmon chose an internship over USATF this summer
CHAPEL HILL — When the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships commenced in Sacramento, California on June 22, Kenny Selmon could not be found.
Just two weeks prior, Selmon broke a 22-year-old North Carolina record and established a lifetime best when he ran the 400-meter hurdles in 48.60 seconds, placing fourth in the event at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
The performance earned Selmon first-team All-America honors for a second straight season. A successful showing at the USATF Outdoor Championships seemed almost certain.
Instead, as fellow competitors questioned his whereabouts, Selmon was almost 2,500 miles away in Atlanta, where he spent the summer interning in the commercial leadership division at the Coca-Cola Co.'s headquarters.
Forgoing the USATF Outdoor Championships wasn't an easy decision, Selmon said. But nearly two months removed, it's one he still stands by.
"The way I've lived my life, I've always tried to be a very wholesome and well-rounded person," Selmon said. "I don't want to put all of my eggs in one basket. It was a long thought process and I really didn't know if I wanted to skip the internship and do the [USATF] championships and go for that, or did I want to invest a little bit of time into the corporate lifestyle and use my degree as leverage?
"I have a few more years to run track, so I might as well as try to tap into the corporate lifestyle now and have that in my back pocket."
Enrolled in the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, Selmon is a business administration major with a concentration in real estate. He's also a member of the Undergraduate Real Estate Club and spent the summers of 2015 and 2016 interning with Virgent Realty, a cloud-based, full-service real estate agency.
But when he received an email last fall about available internships with Coca-Cola, Selmon – who is from Mableton, Ga., about 15 miles west of downtown Atlanta – said he figured he should at least apply.
Selmon was offered an internship almost three weeks later.
On June 10, Selmon flew back to Chapel Hill from the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon. He drove to Atlanta the following day and began his internship on June 12.
"I'm driving back on Sunday and I'm just freaking out," he recalled. "I'm like, 'I don't know what time I've got to wake up tomorrow.' I wake up really early, at like 6 (a.m.), and I go in there at 7. And I don't have to be there until like 9.
"Needless to say, it was a crazy couple of days."
And the rest of Selmon's summer didn't lack in excitement.
Bound by a non-disclosure agreement, Selmon said he mostly worked with digital initiatives. That included making sales pitches for a pilot app that hasn't been released but he said will strengthen the relationships between Coca-Cola's customers, such as restaurants, and their consumers.
Selmon said he has also assisted with the company's "Share a Vend" campaign – which allows you to purchase a Coca-Cola vending pass for someone and send it to them via email or text message – and visited bottling facilities and the syrup factory.
"You're going to face challenges every day in business," said Billy Koehler, the director of digital and payment platforms at Coca-Cola and Selmon's internship supervisor. "I feel like Kenny really did a great job of rising above that, being persistent and not backing away from a challenge – kind of looking it in the face and if he fails at first, just knowing he can try again the next day and overcome it.
"I'd say it's that mental toughness that I think is really going to set up Kenny for the long run."
Some of that mental toughness was developed on the Tar Heel track and field team, which he said being a member and captain of aided him during his internship.
"I would definitely say my leadership styles and abilities that I've gained from UNC have just translated very easily into my position at Coke," Selmon said, "because I've been able to take an idea from them, take thought processes and kind of analyze them and then make them make sense and produce results."
Although his hurdles training has been limited, Selmon said Coca-Cola has a weight room, which allowed him to stay in shape. He called the short break from track "a blessing in disguise," as it helped him rest some and focus on his internship.
But as Selmon prepares to return to Chapel Hill for his senior year, his attention will shift toward attaining a national championship and his degree.
"I think Kenny's academic pursuits are as important, or even more important, than what he accomplishes on the track, and he sort of keeps that perspective," coach Harlis Meaders said. "He's actually a really good mentor for the rest of the kids in our program.
"I'd like to say that it's been amazing to watch some of the things he's been able to accomplish, but it's really not as amazing as you might think when you see the amount of work he puts in."