T&FN Interview — Trayvon Bromell

A pair of 10.01s in Eugene kicked off comebacking Trayvon Bromell’s Olympic 100 season. (KEVIN MORRIS)

FOR NEARLY AS FAR BACK as he can remember, Trayvon Bromell has been running. He remembers being just a little kid when a close family friend set him up in his first match race. “I won, so they introduced me to my late coach, ‘Coach G,’ and we’d been going it at since I was like 4 years old.”

Garlynn Boyd guided Bromell and the other youngsters (including a hurdler named TJ Holmes) at the Lightning Bolt TC in St. Petersburg, from their early days until they moved on to college teams. She died of COVID last June at age 54.

Bromell readily admits he faced some tough situations growing up in Florida, and he credits Coach G among those who helped him get out. As a senior, he blitzed a windy 9.99 at altitude and came back the next week to win the New Balance Nationals 100. The next year at Baylor, still only 18, he won the NCAA 100 in a World Junior Record 9.97.

The hits kept coming. In 2015, he finished 2nd to Andre De Grasse at the NCAA, then ripped a 9.84 PR at the USATF meet and in his first World Championships subsequently tied with the Canadian for a bronze. The next year, in his first shot at an Olympic season, he tied his lifetime best with a 9.84 at the Trials. (Continued below)

In Rio, though, the wheels came off. A troubled Achilles got worse. He salvaged 8th in the 100 final. In the relay, despite knowing that he was risking further injury, he went for broke as the anchor, crossing the line 3rd in 37.62. A DQ for an earlier zone violation took that medal away.

The injury, though, would haunt him for the next 3 years, and then some. Through several surgeries and interminable rehab sessions, Bromell kept his belief that he would someday return to the sport to fulfill his early promise. He makes no secret of his religious faith and the role it plays in his perseverance. To this day he makes it the centerpiece of his existence, saying that track doesn’t matter in his big picture. “Me and some of the pro athletes on the circuit, we have Bible study literally every morning. We don’t miss a day. We never let a day go by where we don’t give Him thanks.”

Now 25, Bromell has plenty to be thankful for. He is healthy again. He sprinted his way to the top of the world list the first weekend of May with a 9.88. And suddenly, he is looking at the possibility that he may go into the Olympic Trials as the favorite. Yet he insists that’s not the important thing:

“Obviously,” he says, “we don’t train every day to not go and win races and things of that nature, but understand me, Trayvon Bromell the athlete, it’s not about the titles or the times for me. Those are luxuries to the purpose, but they’re not the purpose.”

We caught up with him recently to hear more.

T&FN: With how your training is progressing these days, were you surprised at all by your 9.88?

Bromell: The time didn’t surprise me; it’s more so the date on it, you know, this is my second 100 competition of the year. Last time I ran 9.8 was at the Trials in 2015 and 2016. So for it to be my second meet and to be able to run that time, it put in perspective what we’ve been doing and it actually made me want to work harder. Since then I’ve been going to practice with a mindset of just putting in more work, more definition into the character of it all, just staying focused.

T&FN: Technically, how would you evaluate that race?

Bromell: Everything was good. The start could have been a lot better. Mentally I think I just really wanted to go out there and attack the best I could. So going into the race, I just wanted to get through it healthy to stay as focused as possible. When I got out of the blocks, I was like, “OK, I know I’m in good position, but I know it wasn’t the best start.” Once I just stood up, I just felt like God carried me the rest of the race and when the time came up, I was just happy,

T&FN: You’ve dabbled a bit in the 200 this season. Is that an event you see yourself racing at the Trials?

Bromell: No, not this year. I talked to coach [Rana Reider] and we definitely want to start implementing the 200 into my career. But this year we’re just focused on the 100.

T&FN: I’m going to take you way back with some of these questions. When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Bromell: I honestly didn’t know. Everybody knows my story; I came from the rough side of the woods. So for me, we didn’t really have our eyes set on chasing dreams. Growing up, even though I would express to people like, “I want to be an athlete or a big-time Olympian,” where we come from you don’t really see too many people get to that level.

Back then, you told people your dreams, they laughed at it. You were lucky to graduate out of high school, even get a good job. Most people, they graduated high school, they work as bank tellers or fast food or at Walmart. You know, that was the vision of it all. Many of us that grew up in that environment saw this as a reality.

Bromell came away from his first World Champs 100 final with a bronze medal in ’15. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

T&FN: What part of that childhood do you still carry with you? Whether it’s the scars or whether it’s the strength, how did that make you who you are?

Bromell: I would say the scars, the scars is the strength, because I feel like God took me through a trial time to build me into the person that I needed to be within the sport and on this earth. I feel like that’s why you see the drive and ambition in me when I race. I’m not that guy that gets out there and does all the dancing and all the crazy stuff before and after the race. I didn’t grow up like that. You know what I’m saying? I represent something bigger than all that.

So when I step up on the track, you see the humble beginnings; I think that’s what a lot of people can relate to. I think I’m probably one of the few that came into this sport, and is authentically original — I’m me, I never changed up. I’m still the same guy who wears a black hoodie and a hat everywhere.

T&FN: You were solid in high school, with a 10.27 and a windy 9.99. That’s serious. These days we’ve got some kids going even faster. What’s going on?

Bromell: Evolution. When people saw the first person break the 10-second barrier, they thought that was the craziest thing. And then obviously we speed up to the generation of seeing 9.58. So it doesn’t surprise me. I was telling one of my teammates, “Think about it, the last Olympic Trials. The standard was 10.16. Now it’s 10.05. You better believe that the next go-round, the standard is going to be 9.99.” Because we’ve seen people running at that barrier so much it’s become a norm. It doesn’t surprise me.

T&FN: If someone had dangled a big pro contract in front of you back in high school, what do you think you would have done?

Bromell: I wouldn’t take it. I was offered contracts when I came out of high school. It just didn’t make sense. I went to college and I still got a big contract and let’s not forget, I was still a teenager. I was still 19. And the things that I know now that I didn’t know then are the things many kids don’t witness until they go through life a bit. I was mature enough to make that adult decision to turn away from the money. And once again, I think that’s another characteristic that people see in me: I don’t do for the money. So yes, I could have made it. I could have made a decision to say, “Oh, I can go pro, get some bread a little better than what I’m living now.” But is that the purpose? You know what I’m saying? (Continued below)

T&FN: Were your two years at Baylor good for you?

Bromell: Oh yeah, of course. I built relationships, had a great career during the time there — much love and growth spiritually and mentally and even just wisdom-wise through the education while I was there. I don’t have any bad memories at all.

T&FN: The way your life has played out, any regrets or second thoughts at turning pro after your sophomore year at Baylor?

Bromell: I feel like personally, there really wasn’t anything more for me to do in the NCAA. I came in, I proved the point that my 9.99 wasn’t a fluke in the sense of my ability. I won [the NCAA] with a great time. What more was there for me to do? I won the 100 outdoors, I won the 200 indoors. There really wasn’t anything more for me to do in the sense of college. And that’s what my coach and my trainers agreed on. And it was just like, what’s the point?

T&FN: Fast forward to the end of that first pro year for you, 2015, when you tied for bronze at the World Championships with Bolt and Gatlin finishing ahead of you, what were you thinking? That you still had another step to climb?

Bromell: Honestly, people ask me, what it’s like to run against Usain Bolt? People got to understand, I ran against Bolt when I guess he was starting the descent, you know. So even though he still ran like 9.7s and 9.8s pretty much casually, I didn’t race Bolt when he was 9.5, 9.6. So when we raced it didn’t seem like a big gap for me. I was like, “Oh, I could still almost like reach out and touch him.” Like if I had two more steps, you know what I’m saying? At the end of the day, it didn’t make me feel like, “Oh, I have a long way to go.” I felt like, “OK, I’m a teenager. And I’m here running with these guys.”

T&FN: That next season, 2016, obviously you had some high points and you had some low points. What was the peak for you? What was the best memory?

Bromell: My World Indoors win, because I feel like I was slowly getting into things and a lot of stuff was just kind of wishy-washy with meets in the sense of how I performed. Even going into the [USATF meet], it just wasn’t a good meet. I made the team, but it wasn’t a good meet performance-wise going up until the finals of that and getting into the actual World Indoors.

Obviously, everybody thought Asafa [Powell] was going to win because of his performances up to that time, so to be able to deal with that adversity and come out on top, I knew God was working through me in a sense because at that moment, I didn’t know my purpose and a sense of what was supposed to be, but He did. God knew. So I was just happy with that. Like I was just happy to be able to,overcome that obstacle of doubt and those who doubted against what I could be.

Bromell had a brilliant NCAA as a Baylor frosh, setting a World Junior Record. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

T&FN: Jumping forward to Rio that summer, I imagine your feelings had to have been terribly mixed about your experience placing 8th in the dash final and then losing a medal in the relay because of a DQ.

Bromell: It was a crazy situation. I was dealing with the Achilles and to go out there and run, I obviously ended up getting hurt more. I was coming back out, going through the media area, doing interviews. And then a guy told me that we ended up getting DQed and it threw me off. ’Cause I was like, man, you know, after the 100 didn’t go the way I wanted it, I was like, “OK, I’ll at least get a medal in the relay” and that got taken away.

T&FN: That began your years of struggle with injury and the rehab. In 2017, you only showed up for one race, the heats at Nationals, where you ran 10.22. What were you hoping for there?

Bromell: Just to see where I was. I knew after having the surgery, we wanted to see how far the rehab process had brought us. We wanted to go out there and see what we could do against competition, with pretty much no training. To do 10.2, we were happy, but we knew there was something still wrong. We ended up finding out that my Achilles actually was scarred down to my heel ball. So we had to go back under surgery later on that week.

T&FN: That rehab process, it seemed to stretch forever. Did you at times wonder if you ever were going to come through it OK?

Bromell: Mentally it’s always the question mark, wondering if things were going to be what it used to be. And like I told many people, I think the thing that helped obviously the most was my faith. That’s what brought the change. And then the people that God put me around, I feel like that was another key component to me staying strong in a situation where many would just give up.

T&FN: Was there a moment of revelation during a certain therapy session or a practice where you knew you were going to make it back?

Bromell: It would’ve been the fall going into winter time of 2019, getting ready to go into 2020. Once I got with my new coach, Rana Reider, I flew to Germany where our base was at a time and we just did a lot of rehab stuff. Obviously, that was a long process, just in and out of the facility with the docs. Just trying to figure out if there’s inflammation, any swelling coming up. Doing strengthening and doing a lot of tests. Machines to see where I was landing, and stability. It was a lot of technical headaches, ’cause it was like, “OK, I’m getting probed up on all of these machines to try to see how my body reacts and all this stuff, which are great things.”

God bless that we had resources like that, but it was just like a lot for me ’cause I’m like, “OK, but what is this telling me? Will I be better? Is there room for improvement? Will this inflammation or pain come back?” I really wasn’t getting those answers. So it came down to trust in Rana and the staff to pretty much give me the workouts that helped get everything in the works. What a lot of people don’t know is it was still a big question mark on if I would be back, as recently as 2020.

T&FN: These days, does Tokyo dominate your thoughts or are there days when you don’t even think about the Olympics?

Bromell: I think about it, but I really want people to understand that the meet doesn’t define me. You know what I’m saying? People put a certain outlook on individuals, especially in the sports world, like, “Oh, this person is the best starter. This person did this, this person did that, this person’s a champion.” And I look at it more so like, “Man, this is a platform for a purpose or for a certain thing to be spoke on.”

I was telling one of my friends the other day, I use these platforms to bring attention to things that need to be heard and things that need to be said. So a lot of that’s why a lot of people follow me or watch my races. It’s the post-race interviews, it’s the posts on social media that I really want people to see or understand because that’s the real purpose of me representing hope, faith, me wanting change amongst this world, giving people that approval to say, “Hey, you don’t need no one’s approval to go and be great.” That is the purpose of me doing this and what people are seeing, not the race.

T&FN: What’s your working relationship like with Rana? Are you guys all business? Or are there a lot of laughs along the way?

Bromell: Oh yeah, there are laughs. I mean, it’s everything: business, laughs, it’s emotional vulnerability because Rana knows how much this means to me. And I think day in and day out, he sees that. Some days he’s like, “Tray, it’s OK, you don’t have to be so serious”. He’s starting to really see what this means. It’s bigger than track & field me. Every time I step on the track, it’s an example of the purpose that I’m trying to show to the world and the information that I’m spreading to the eyes and ears of the viewers. So he understands, you know, and I think that makes the, the work side of it a little more sweet. (Continued below)

T&FN: What’s it like being part of his Tumbleweed training group? I mean, it’s a massive collection of talent. How do you guys keep your egos out of the way?

Bromell: I think the majority of it is understanding that everybody’s transparent. We all come from different sides of the world, different backgrounds, and we all understand that that is perfectly OK. You have some of us who come from humble beginnings. We have some people who came from a great upbringing. We got people who came from poverty. We got people who come from Third World countries and it’s all OK to each other. We’re here at the same place. We’re all in the same position, we going to push each other to be better. And we will make sure that everybody is OK at the end of the day. We really build a family bond around that.

T&FN: Do you ever get together off the track?

Bromell: Of course. With COVID in play that actually had to slow down a bit, ’cause it’s not too much that we could do. I don’t think everybody wants to keep showing up at each other’s houses, but outside of that, before then, we always do the team dinners or cheap movies, or going to the beach and all that stuff and do everything as a team. With COVID that had to stop because not too many places were open at the time or you don’t want to be around so many people and contract the virus. So we had to be smart about that.

T&FN: With all those international athletes in that group, please tell me that you shared some great dinners.

Bromell: Of course. Like, Jamaicans, they always cookin’ and we always have little things. Like if it’s at my house or any one of the teams’, everybody brings a dish. That’s how we operate.

T&FN: Who’s the best cook?

Bromell: Ooh [laughs]. I can’t say that. I don’t want to get into arguments.

T&FN: Fair enough. Looking ahead, where do you want to be in 10 or 20 years? What’s your future look like?

Bromell: Oh man, 10, 20 years. Well, I always wanted to be an agent. I definitely want to help people gain their worth out of whatever talent they have. I feel like a lot of people out there want opportunity and don’t have that person to fight for them to get that exposure, to get that recognition for what they’re worth, what they were gifted to do. I got my master’s degree in sports, marketing and management. So I definitely have a wisdom in the business side of it all. I definitely see myself being a top contender in the agency business.

I also want to do photography. Like I said, I’m big into storytelling and putting out that creativity into the world. I just want to have fun with my life, be comfortable with my life and where I am, where I will be. And like I said, help people.

T&FN: Do you see yourself being a family man someday?

Bromell: Anybody who knows me know I want to be married right now with kids. That’s just always been me. My family can tell you that, my friends can tell you that. I probably talk about having a family or weddings and kids more than anybody around me. I probably talk about marriage and kids more than my friends that got wives and kids.

T&FN: You’ve been generous with your time, but is there anything else you wanted to hit that I didn’t ask you?

Bromell: I like to have the opportunity to speak and get people to understand the purpose behind what I’m doing. This purpose is bigger than me. It’s not about me. And that’s what I really want people to understand. I want people to know, especially kids. I definitely think this is a great example of accepting who you are, not letting anybody be the writer of your life. People did not think this would be the outcome of my career. People thought I was done.

They wrote me off, but understand that they’re not the author of my life. And it’s OK to be them. It’s OK to feel vulnerable. I just want the kids to know to keep fighting. And I feel like we don’t promote that enough, especially as athletes. We’ve got to start promoting this more to these kids because they look up to us and we’ve got to let them know that it’s OK to be them. It’s OK to have dreams. It’s OK to believe and just go out there and be strong.

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