Born in Brooklyn, New York, Adkins was raised in Lakeview, New York on Long Island where he attended Malverne High School, graduating in 1988. He attended Georgia Technical where he earned a Bachelor"s degree at the George West. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering in June 1993.
That year he was ranked as the number one high school 400 meter hurdler in the nation, having run the race in 50.71 seconds. Coached by Buddy Fowlkes and Grover Hinsdale at Georgia Technical, he became a six-time All American in the 400 meter hurdles and the 4 X 400 meter relay. In the beginning of the 1996 season Matete beat Adkins four times in a row.
Then just before the Games in Atlanta, Adkins defeated Matete in the Paris Grand Prix at the Stade de France in a time of 47.70.
In his career Adkins broke the esteemed 48-second barrier a total of 20 times. He has set stadium records and meet records at the Penn Relays, the Lucerne Grand Prix (4768), the Linz Grand Prix (4770), and the Goodwill Games in Saint St. Petersburg, Russia (4786).
In October 1996 local authorities of his hometown of Lakeview lobbied to change the name of the street where he was raised from Seneca Road, to Derrick Adkins Lane. Adkins was an assistant coach at Columbia University between 2004 and 2006.
He served as the Director of The Armory Track and Field Center between 2006 and 2011.
During his time at The Armory the organization began hosting more than 100 track meets per year. He initiated the dialogue to bring the Millrose Games from Madison Square Garden to The Armory where it is has been staged ever since. In 2010 Adkins stated "I"m a New Yorker and I love the Garden, but current pro-runners only want to run on a 200-meter banked Mondo surface.
Under-sized tracks are now out-dated." He is currently employed New York Road Runners.
On February 17, 2006 Adkins appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman showing his gold medal on "Show and Tell".