Trayvon Bromell’s Long Road Back

Trayvon Bromell was brilliant as a Baylor frosh back in ’14, winning the NCAA 100 in World Junior Record time. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

THE TIME—10.04 to win a 100 heat at the Showdown In OTown in Montverde, Florida, on the 4th of July—jumped out with a boom from the meet results like a firework against an ink-black sky.

Twenty-five-year-old Trayvon Bromell—World Junior Recordsetter and NCAA champion at 19, World Championships bronze medalist and World Indoor 60 champion at 20—had just put up his fastest mark since the Rio semis. A low-altitude world-leading mark in this most anomalous season, Bromell’s time left double Olympic medalist Andre De Grasse—bronze medalist at the Worlds in Doha last year—0.11 behind and was the swiftest wind-legal 100 performance in a meet deep with world-class century talent. Only the aided marks of Noah Lyles (9.93w) and Justin Gatlin (9.99w), with a 4.0 following wind for their heat were quicker.

After 3½ seasons away from elite sprint times—a period during which observers not in Bromell’s inner circle had decided chances of a bright return were sliding for the former Baylor star—most of us had to ask, Where had he been? Where is he now? Is a return to the 9.84 (twice) PR form of yore on the cards? The world could use a good comeback story right now.

Keep watching. Bromell will have a lot to tell. In due course, he says, “I’m going to voice it more and have more of an answer for the world to understand this new reframed Trayvon. For me, this force is bigger than just running fast. So for me to answer that question of where am I, how do I feel, when are we going to see the 9-second Trayvon? I can’t give you the answer because my mind is solely tied to one thing and that’s inspiring.”

Well… just a week after this story’s initial publication. A 9.90 Bromell showed up in Clermont, Florida. But that didn’t alter his motivation.

“For me these years have been a big work for me on my spirituality. I know everyone in the world may not be religious or may not believe in the same religion that I do. But for me, I’ve gotten closer to the God I believe in and Christianity and a lot of things have been brought to my attention. I can honestly admit that I got lost in the attention, I got lost in the reality of things, I got off track of my purpose. And now I feel like I’ll reclaim that responsibility of why Trayvon Bromell is who he is.

“And it’s not to be just this fast guy or to chase after the title of being the world’s fastest man. It’s to be an inspiration to the generation that’s coming up after us, to give hope to a lot of people that have heard ‘no’ in their life, that have never been able to achieve things because of the assumptions and the judgment of others.

“I’m representing something bigger than just a time. And with that being said, I think whenever you see it, don’t just see the time. See the beauty behind the collateral intake of everything that’s been through this vessel. I think that’s the most important thing that I’ve seen, that a lot of people need to see rather than 9 seconds.”

On the cusp of what could be a return to the sub-10 world, Bromell readily answers the “where has he been?” question. When last seen on the world stage, in Rio, he had placed 8th in the Olympic 100 final after battling through what was reported that summer as an Achilles strain incurred at the Rome DL in June. He had equaled that 9.84 at the Olympic Trials, placing 2nd, and sprinted 10.01 in his Rio semi before a 10.06 in the final.

He anchored the Team USA 4×1 squad, 3rd across the line in 37.62. But the pass Gatlin took from Mike Rodgers on the first handoff was out of the zone and disqualification followed—as did the news Bromell had reinjured his left heel.

“As far as just since 2016, that has definitely been an uphill battle,” Bromell says. “You know, one day you think everything’s fine and the next day you could be sitting at the edge wondering where life is going to take you. Just dealing with 2016, it was a big year, obviously, for me. I had an injury, came back and equaled my PB and was looked at as one of the favorites to go and do some great things in the 2016 Olympics—as far as being one to take a medal, but some even some would say go out and attempt to win.

“To kind of see that dream go down the way it did, it kinda hurt me. It hurt me a bit.”

Bromell remembers he “hopped on a plane, saw some docs, got some scans,” and the ultimate diagnosis, he wants the record set straight, was a bone spur. His Achilles was intact. He underwent surgery and with hindsight, while not “taking away from [his surgeon’s] knowledge,” Bromell believes he stayed excessively inactive, in a boot for 2 months, and the immobility caused scar tissue to effectively lock his Achilles to the bone.

A discouraging cycle of one race in ’17, a 10.22 heat at the USATF Champs, and another surgery to detach his Achilles from the bone, clean out the scar tissue and “basically start all over again” followed.

“It was very hard just trying to stay motivated and watching everything and seeing track go by,” Bromell admits. “It was definitely a dark time where I was just thinking, ‘Maybe this is just not my life anymore, maybe it’s done. Maybe I had what I had, there is no way of coming back from this.’” But Ford “and the staff at Baylor, they’re like family,” Bromell says. “So they kept me up to be able to still wake up and come out and do what we needed to do to get this thing moving.”

Unable to sprint in 2018, Bromell returned to racing in June of ’19 with a 10.57 in Jamaica. By this time he had weathered five major setbacks in his career including three in his time at Gibbs High (St. Petersburg, Florida): “In 2008 I broke my right knee, in 2009 I broke my left knee. In 2010 I broke my hip in the middle of a track meet. I was just coming out of the blocks and my hip just broke. It wasn’t even a train hit my car or I fell off something. I came out of my drive phase and my hip just broke.”

The Kingston time read more like one of Bromell’s less spectacular high school races but he raced again in Montverde in July of ’19. His time in a heat there was 10.57. What the results didn’t show, Bromell says, is that he accelerated well and was leading at 70m when foot pain hit: “I had to slow down and everybody passed me.” He feels, “If the foot didn’t start hurting that could have probably been like a 10.2, which still would have been an eye-opener to a lot of people, obviously, from not being able to race in so many years.” He started the final later that day and 50m in an adductor yelped in pain and he had to pull up.

Bromell says, “That was actually the last meet I had under Coach Ford. We talked and I just felt like I needed to go somewhere and just get a new beginning, get different resources. I love Baylor to death and they did all they could. I felt like if I had to ask them for more, I would be selfish. It was a blessing, you know, they definitely gave me the best years of my college career and loved me like no other, because obviously I’m from Florida, I left my mom and my family, I came to Texas where I knew nobody and gained a family. So I definitely appreciate them.”

Last summer, though, Bromell flew to Canada and during the northern neighbor’s Worlds Trials met with noted pro coach Rana Reider, who currently trains Christian Taylor, De Grasse, Omar McLeod and an international group of elites in Jacksonville which now includes Bromell. “I told him about my life,” Bromell says. “I told him why this is so important to me. It’s bigger than me and there’s something greater in this story that needs to be told. And I think he could tell he wasn’t just getting a kid that was going to be a waste of his time.

“Even if the world told him that I was, I think he sees something different, and it’s definitely still a work in progress.”

Progress back to 10.04 so far. “I’ve always my whole life had to work more and harder than everyone else,” Bromell says, “because I’m not the biggest guy, I’m not the tallest guy. [5-8¾/157 {1.75/71}] So I’ve always had to work twice as hard as anybody else.”

After he has worked some more, Bromell promises he’ll have more to report.