Before he ran the fastest 60-meter dash in the NCAA this year, Clayton Vaughn had endured the longest year of his life.
Memories of an injury-shortened 2013 season and the passing of his biggest mentor tucked away, Vaughn lined up on the blocks at the Frank Sevigne Husker Invitational on Feb. 8 and dashed 60 meters in 6.55 seconds to shatter the UT Arlington record and open the eyes of the nation.
Houston’s Cameron Burrell and Southern California’s Aaron Brown also ran 6.55’s this season, but at high altitudes that caused the NCAA to adjust their times to 6.57 seconds.
His run marked the fourth-fastest time by any runner in the U.S. and the 11th-fastest time in the world this year.
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Everything came together for Vaughn, who said he always felt like that time was within reach but didn’t expect it to happen this early in the season.
“There’s never going to be a perfect race, so I like that there are always going to be things for me to work on,” he said.
He’ll lead UTA into the Sun Belt Indoor Championships Monday and Tuesday in Birmingham, Ala. — looking to win a conference championship — but using his tumultuous past year helps him stay focused on the little things.
During last year’s UTA Bobby Lane Invitational, Vaughn didn’t even make it 10 meters into his leg of the 4x100 relay before suffering a stress fracture in his fibula. For the second straight year, his season was cut short by injury.
Vaughn’s mother, Melanie Pride, reminded him that “God’s timing will always be the best timing,” even though the All-American didn’t want to hear it then. Vaughn had won two indoor conference championships three weeks earlier, and now he had to miss the outdoor season.
But the idea that his “comeback would be his payback” — another reminder from his mother — stuck with Vaughn through the long rehab process that impressed his peers.
UTA coach John Sauerhage said he’s never coached an athlete who goes about his business as Vaughn does.
“His drive and determination, I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Sauerhage, in his 18th year at UTA. “His feet do the talking, and he shows you how it’s done just by his actions.”
Vaughn spent the off-season working his way back to full strength. He practices hard but has a tendency to overlook the little things his body tries to tell him after an intense workout.
That all changed right before final exams on Dec. 2, when Vaughn learned that Melanie had unexpectedly passed away.
“It was a hard December,” he said. “I lost a lot of fitness I’d gained in the fall. Getting on the track really helped, but there were some days where I was dead tired.
“But then I just think about my mom and try to make her proud.”
While he doesn’t use what happened this year as motivation, he said it encourages him to stop and focus on an aspect of his craft he had often overlooked — recovering after races.
“I’m a lot smarter about taking care of my body,” he said. “Practice is a big part of track, but the recovery process is probably bigger than that.”
If anyone knows about recovery, it’s Vaughn. Because of last year’s injury, he gained another year of NCAA eligibility to run this year and next.
Whatever happens, Vaughn has some particular reassurance from his mother that he’ll remember before each race.
As she always told him, “anywhere you run to, I will be right behind you.”