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‘This is Where I’m Supposed to Be’: At DA, Dr. Krishinda Lee ’04 Comes Full Circle
By Dylan Howlett


The photo has it all: a blur of speed captured in rare stillness, lips parted from inexhaustible effort, a track star clad in an evergreen Durham Academy singlet, clutching a baton in the same close grip with which she holds her friendships and duty to others.

Look closer, and the concentric lines that have guided Dr. Krishinda Lee ’04 back to DA — in 2022 as a physical education teacher, Class of 2026 advisor and track coach — wander beyond the bold lines of the track. Her eyes, for the briefest moment, are closed, awash in the type of peace that comes when you know you are precisely where you’re meant to be. 

For one, her future husband — a competitor at rival Greensboro Day School — paces in the background. He wears a white tank top with green shorts, and he angles his head toward Lee as she bounces down her lane. Lee and Chris Morgan would meet on the track, again, in another place and another time, when they started their collegiate track careers at UNC-Chapel Hill and saw each other in the middle of sprint practice. “As soon as I met him and we had been training, I was like, ‘You look so familiar,’” Lee says now. “I pulled out those old photos, and there he was.”

But Lee almost wasn’t there for that serendipitous glance on the high school track.

During her eighth-grade year at DA, she took a tour at Jordan High School — where several of her friends planned to attend ninth grade — and felt it might become her new home. By now she had been discovered by Dennis Cullen, who won 39 state championships in 39 years as the varsity track and cross-country coach at DA. He saw the eighth-grader’s easy stride and peerless determination, and Cullen promoted Lee to varsity. Never mind that in her first state meet, Lee ran the penultimate leg of a relay that was even when she took the baton and opened up a 20-yard advantage that proved decisive. She cared more about how she felt on the team, thanks in no small part to Cullen.

“Track is a very individual sport, but he created this team environment where we had these little families,” said Lee, who owned the DA women’s 400-meter record for 15 years and shared the women’s 4x400-meter relay mark for eight.

There was another sport, and another coach, who also made her reconsider leaving. Greg Murray worked at DA for 43 years — a time during which he served in roles including director of physical education, a PE teacher, a boys and girls golf coach and head coach of the varsity girls basketball team, on which Lee starred. It felt like home. “I just thought about the culture Murray had created, especially within the basketball team,” said Lee, who was named team MVP during her senior year. “He seemed to want me there not just as an athlete who could help the team, but also as a person.

“It just seemed like, ‘OK, this is where I’m supposed to be.’”

Her coaches felt much the same. “There are many things over which we had no control, but we excelled in those we could: effort, enthusiasm, support and working as a team,” Murray wrote in the 2004 DA Yearbook. “Krishinda Lee exemplified those qualities.” 

“There are a lot of people who work hard and are just determined and gritty — and not necessarily pleasant to be around,” said Cullen, who retired in 2019 and was inducted into the NCISAA Hall of Fame the same year. “There are other people who are delightful to be around, but they don’t have much of a work ethic at all. Krishinda is just a wonderful combination of a cheerful, delightful person who laughs easily and frequently, but is just tremendously dedicated to the work ethic.”

Take her first semester at UNC. Lee said she had no intentions of pursuing track in college until a scholarship athlete on the team encouraged her to run. When told of her times in high school, the team’s sprint coach promptly invited Lee to the next day’s tryouts. “I remember telling myself, ‘Just hang in with them,’” Lee said. “I feel like I’m a very hard worker and very determined. I just don’t like being told, ‘No.’ It fueled my fire.”

She would make the team and run for three seasons before choosing to dedicate

all of her time and energy to her Exercise and Sports Science degree. Her biomechanics professor, in another full-circle coincidence, was Murray’s wife, Debra. Lee would graduate from UNC and later apply to the physical therapy program at Duke, which rejected her initial application. So she volunteered, worked hard, applied during another cycle and got in on her second try. She earned her doctorate in 2014.

Lee pursued outpatient orthopedics and worked with patients who sustained injuries while playing sports. Her clientele featured geriatrics — with a panoply of hip and shoulder issues— and kids, particularly in Greensboro, where she worked at Physical Therapy of the Triad. She and Morgan moved to Minneapolis when he took a job with General Mills, and Lee remained in the orthopedics field. Soon the Minnesota winters turned harsh enough for the native North Carolinians to look homeward, particularly when Lee was expecting the couple’s first child, Kamden. They returned in July 2019 to Durham, where Lee’s parents, La Sharon and Michael, have lived in the same Southwest Durham home for 30 years.

“Getting them to buy in and trust the process — just like my coaches did”

Durham was, again, where Lee was supposed to be — or at least something close to it, until her friend Kelly Teagarden ’04 got in touch toward the close of the 2021–2022 school year. They had known each other since they were third-graders in Lee’s first year at DA, where they co-authored two chapters of school lore: the record-setting 4x400 women’s relay team, and the 2003 Senior Challenge group that got lost during a hike and had to camp overnight at the top of a ridgeline. On this occasion, Teagarden’s motivation for speaking with Lee was less reminiscent and more forward-thinking: Greg Murray was retiring from DA after more than four decades. “I know it’s a longshot,” Teagarden asked, “but would you have any interest in coming back to DA?” Lee visited to shadow Teagarden, a history teacher, Diversity, Equity and Engagement coordinator and Cavalier Capstone program coordinator at the Upper School. 

A nettle dug at Lee’s heart, much like Jordan High School did during her eighth-grade year. When Lee took the job at DA, she thought she’d stay for a year or two before returning to full-time physical therapy. Lee also had some pause about how she fit into DA’s culture until she saw how much progress the school had made around inclusion during her two decades away. Lee was one of five students of color in the 2004 graduating class. This September, she attended the school year’s first meeting of the Black Student Affinity Group, sitting in a Smith Assembly Hall that was nearly filled to capacity. “I was blown away,” Lee said. “This is the place to be.”

It is, too, for Jordan Babwah, the Upper School’s fitness director and academic leader of the physical education department. With Babwah’s vision and Lee’s perspective rooted in physical therapy, PE instruction at DA has become more inclusive and more holistic.

Students can now enroll in strength and conditioning courses in which they learn how to use their bodies and build cohesive, research-based fitness programs. Upper Schoolers can hop on the treadmill for 20 minutes between classes to relieve stress. Other students visit unannounced with Lee or Babwah to discuss issues they might find more challenging to broach with their teachers. “We’re doing more than just getting a person physically fit,” said Lee, who also teaches ninth-grade health. “We’re treating the social-emotional side as well.” That extends, too, to faculty and staff: Friday will mark the Upper School’s inaugural Faculty Wellness Hour, which Lee created to provide a chance for her colleagues to “take a breath, and take time for ourselves,” she said.

Last year’s ninth-graders were the first DA students to receive certification in CPR, First Aid and AED (automated external defibrillator) training — qualifications they can use for employment opportunities, such as lifeguard openings — and Lee plans to make the training a permanent fixture of the curriculum. Lee is an assistant coach on the DA track and field team, but she is particularly drawn to non-athletes, many of whom populate her largest strength and conditioning course this semester. Some students will find they can lift no more than 10 pounds when they start the class; soon, they’re astounded, and confident, when they’re lifting 30 pounds. “Getting them to buy in and trust the process — just like my coaches did,” Lee said. 

Her former coaches and peers have noticed. Shortly after Lee was hired, Babwah was rummaging through a closet when he found a photo of Lee with Murray during her time on the basketball team. “I feel like it brings everything full circle,” Babwah said.

“She’s just a genuinely good person,” said Cullen, who meets semi-regularly with Lee and Costen Irons, DA’s head cross-country coach and assistant track coach, to help with their planning and the execution of their meets. “She thinks of others before she thinks of herself. She has an outward-looking philosophy rather than a self-centered philosophy. She’s just a wonderful, wonderful role model — the type of kid that if you had children yourself, you’d want them hanging around with Krishinda.”

“She’s a person students can turn to, a person they can talk with, a person they can trust,” Teagarden said. “It’s everything you want in a high school teacher. It’s the type of person you want your kid around so maybe they can one day emulate her.”

“She is,” Cullen said, “the epitome of what a teacher or a coach should strive to be.”

“What you see is what you get”

It all started with her very first coach, whom she met when she was 5. Ray Fredrick is the founder and director of Bouncing Bulldogs, a nonprofit in Chapel Hill and Durham that provides jump rope instruction, fun and fitness for kids. Lee jumped with the Bulldogs for 20 years and has coached in the program since 2010. She also now serves as the head of the organization’s board of directors. “From the time I’ve met her at age 5, she hasn’t changed,” Fredrick said.

When a Bouncing Bulldog sustains an injury or feels any measurable pain, they don’t think of asking their personal caretaker or doctor for counsel or treatment: They think, Fredrick said, of Lee. “One thing that makes her stand out — and she’s been able to grab it and hold onto it better than the 6,000 families I’ve ever worked with — is her desire to be a servant to society. She has a giving spirit. She’s very talented, but she’s more focused on what she can do to make the other person feel special and feel valued in this society. To me, that’s her greatest gift.”

“My wife and I were just talking about her,” he said, “and we just said to each other: ‘Krishinda is just a special human being.’”

The circle wouldn’t be full, of course, without her son, Kamden, now 4 years old and Lee’s faithful companion whenever she coaches at Bouncing Bulldogs. Like mom, he can already double dutch. When Lee and Morgan moved back to Durham, they lived with Lee’s parents before they built a house on the back of La Sharon and Michael’s property. They retired in 2010, after 10 years of owning a car wash and detailing shop on North Duke Street. As she speaks on the phone about her daughter, La Sharon — who began working with the DA Extended Day program in August — watches as Kamden, a budding aficionado of landscaping, cuts the lawn with Michael by his side. Everyone, it turns out, is exactly where they’re meant to be. “What you see is what you get,” La Sharon says of Krishinda. “We’re just so blessed to have a daughter like her.”

If Lee had any lingering qualms about her return to DA, it disappeared last year, her first back on campus. She had a student in her strength and conditioning class who was resolute. “I’m not an athlete,” he said. “I’m never going to be an athlete.” It was a test of her coaching mettle, borrowed liberally — and gratefully — from Cullen, Murray and Fredrick.

“A lot of times, I didn’t have a lot of belief in myself or realize the talent that I had,” Lee said. “But they were always my No. 1 supporters and believers, just pushing me to be my best and pulling my best out of me even when I didn’t believe.”

On this day, it was Lee’s turn to sow belief. “That doesn’t mean you can’t be fit and enjoy exercising,” Lee told the student. “The maneuvers that you’re doing right now require power, require strength, require some agility. That’s all the definition of what an athlete is. You’re doing just great.”

“I could see a lightbulb go off,” Lee said. The student’s confidence soared. There was a difference, a noticeable one, in the way he started carrying himself. And this year, he enrolled in another strength and conditioning course. A lightbulb, too, glowed within Lee, its outer reaches stretching back toward that day on the track, when a life partner, and one of three treasured coaches, watched her run — with steady purpose — toward something greater than herself. 

OK, Lee thought as she watched her student. This is where I’m supposed to be.