There’s a lot more to the portrait of Kris Keppel than meets the eye.
No doubt the pencil drawing is an excellent likeness of the Land O’ Lakes coach, who has led the high school’s track and cross-country teams for more than two decades.
The quality of the work is so good that a professional artist judging U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis’ Congressional Art Competition deemed it best of show.
By winning the competition, Nichols will get to travel to Washington, D.C., with one of his parents. They’ll get a tour of the White House and Capitol building, and will get to have lunch in the Congressional dining room. His art will be in the Capitol building for the next year.
Nichols, who is a senior at Land O’ Lakes High, is pleased by the recognition, and excited about getting to see Washington. When he began drawing the portrait, however, he had another goal in mind.
“I really wanted to give my coach something as a gift, something he could have to remind him of me,” said Nichols, who, along with his twin brother Travis, has been on Keppel’s track team for four years and his cross-country team almost as long.
The coach also is a neighbor of the Nichols, and a family friend.
The gesture is particularly poignant because Keppel has been battling pancreatic cancer, a fact that has inspired athletes and friends to rally behind him.
“After everything he’s been going through with the cancer, I thought it was something I should do,” said Nichols, who based his portrait on a photograph that his mom took at the state track meet in Tallahassee.
Nichols credits his art teacher, Cynthia Smith, for helping him develop his ideas and pushing him to keep him on track.
Keppel was flattered by the portrait and impressed by the amount of detail. He said it’s not the first time that Nichols has used his artistic talents on behalf of others, noting the youth has designed two T-shirts used by the team.
Keppel is recovering from a surgery known as the Whipple procedure, which involved cutting into his stomach, taking out his gallbladder, and removing about one-third of his pancreas.
He knows the survival statistics are grim for patients with pancreatic cancer, but he’s keeping an optimistic attitude.
“Remaining positive is the most important thing,” Keppel said.
Nichols is the son of Lynn and Penny Nichols. He plans to attend the University of South Florida and pursue a degree in architecture.
Published May 14, 2014
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