Sometimes Knoxville is just a stop along the road for people looking to advance themselves in the United States. For Allison Outerbridge, Knoxville has been a launchpad of sorts for her career.
Outerbridge, 21, is from Bermuda and came to Knoxville in 2010 to compete on the University of Tennessee track team in the long jump and the triple jump. She could’ve gone to Bermuda College back home, but Outerbridge wanted to compete in track at the college level in the United States.
“I really didn’t have any goals of going to the Olympics or anything. I just wanted to go to school [to compete],” she says.
She began running track at the age of seven, when her gym teacher noticed she was fast. She progressed through club track and eventually joined the Bermuda national track squad.
“To be serious about track in Bermuda, you have to be on the national squad,” she says, since there aren’t competitive teams among high schools there. “Track’s not big in Bermuda.”
Outerbridge also has godparents who live in Baltimore, and made several trips to the United States while growing up, including to Florida and Atlanta, but never for longer than two weeks. When she came to Knoxville, she says she “came here blindly.” Her parents stayed for her first week in town, but then Outerbridge was on her own.
“It was a pretty good transition. I was always open to meeting new people and experiencing new things,” she says. “I didn’t have a really hard time adjusting.”
Except for maybe one thing. “Everybody hugs here!” she says. “In Bermuda, everyone’s nice, you speak [to each other]. But they want you to come over and hug them, too...When I first got here, I was like ‘Do I really have to hug you?’ And people thought it was me being stuffy or whatever, but that’s not what we do in Bermuda.”
She also says Americans are a lot less proper in their speech. Outerbridge says she prefers to say “pardon me” instead of “what” when she doesn’t understand something.
“My granny would be like ‘who are you talking to?’ But I would never say that to my granny!” she says.
Though Outerbridge plans to move on to pursue a masters degree in nutrition at Georgia State University next fall, giving back to the community in which she currently lives has been important to her. She volunteers at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital every week. In fact, she made the prom sash for LaFollette teen Katelyn Norman, who passed away just days after the event.
“I was in charge of making her sash, and come to find out, the sash made national news—that was her favorite thing. Just knowing that I helped do that was very gratifying,” she says. “It really touched me because I was a part of her last memories.”
Outerbridge feels so strongly about volunteering in the community that she took on the mantle of community service representative for the student athlete advisory committee, which means she’s in charge of letting her teammates know about opportunities to donate their time, and makes sure they log their volunteer hours.
Just in the last couple of months, Outerbridge ran in the Run for Hope 5K, volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, and helped clean up after the Festival of Trees in addition to her regular hours at the hospital.
But it’s not just the beauty of Knoxville’s landscape that Outerbridge will take with her when she graduates in May. The people of Knoxville will be what she remembers most.
“Everyone here is a diehard Vol fan,” she says. “The people stand behind us. Win or lose, we’re still going to have people in our corner.”