When Clayton Vaughn blew past the field to win the 100-meter dash at the Sun Belt Championships on May 10, he clapped his hands in celebration, looked up and waited for the clock to round up from 9.90 seconds.
Little did he realize he’d just run a wind-legal 9.93 100-meter dash — the fourth-fastest time ever by a collegian and the second-fastest time in the world in 2015 — and shattered his personal, school and conference records in the process. He’ll compete in the event at the NCAA West Preliminaries Thursday through Sunday at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin.
“It was a blessing,” he said. “I just went through my phases and believed in it. My coaches always say, ‘don’t go chase a time.’ If you worry about the time, then you’re trying to force it and you won’t run the race you’ve set up for yourself.”
And while the record itself was enough to drum up whispers of world-class talk, Vaughn had something much more important on his mind following the Mother’s Day race.
Vaughn’s mother and biggest motivator, Melanie Pride, died after an E. coli infection in late 2013. Driven by her death, “Cookie,” as his mom called Vaughn, is fulfilling the dream his mother had when she’d tell him he was destined for greatness on the track.
“I’m not too emotional of a person, but to see it all come together and pay off on Mother’s Day,” he said. “What she saw, I’m actually living her dream. The people who are really close to me and knew my mom know how big of a day and how hard of day that was for me. It was pretty special.”
Vaughn’s career has seen him transform from oft-injured high school recruit that big schools shied away from into the most prolific sprinter in UTA history.
“We saw early on out here in practice that he was something special with his explosiveness,” Track coach John Sauerhage said. “It didn’t take long to figure out we had a prize on our hands.”
That’s when sprint coaches Jordan Hawkins Alexander and Tyrone Edgar got to work in taking the raw sprinter from Converse Judson and turning him into a championship-caliber athlete. Edgar, who had run for Great Britain’s bronze-medal 4x100 squad in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, embraced his role as a mentor to him.
Vaughn would be the first to tell you he’s had more injuries than he can count, but thanks to Edgar and the coaching helping him get to 9.93, he approaches them with an advanced perspective.
“In the back of your head, you can’t help but worry about it,” Edgar said. “But this is track. If you’re worried about your body not being able to run down the track, you shouldn’t be in this sport. He understands that now.”
Coaches rave about Vaughn’s go-about-his-business attitude that’s pervaded the entire track and field team. He isn’t loud or brash. He leads by example, they say.
“But he has this infamous clap that he does after the race,” Edgar joked. “I think the coaches are more excited than him sometimes.”
He’s blown well past expectations and has become the face of a UTA track program that has won back-to-back conference championships. For now, he’s focused on regionals, then nationals. If he keeps progressing on what he’s built, there’s a belief that Vaughn can take his ability to the USA or World championships. Maybe even the Olympics.
But all of that is too far off for Vaughn to worry about.
“If it happens, that will be the pinnacle of my career. But right now I just have to take it step by step,” Vaughn said.
And if those steps come quick enough, that signature clap might become as world-class as he could be.
NCAA West Preliminaries
Thursday-Sunday, Mike A. Myers Stadium, University of Texas
The top 48 in individual events and top 24 in relays compete in prelims to decide the top 12 in each, who will advance to the NCAA Finals in Eugene, Ore., June 10-13.
UTA individual qualifiers
Clayton Vaughn (100), Quentin Butler (100), Cameron Newson (200), Tarik Crear (200). Emil Blomberg (3,000 steeplechase), Victor Fincher (100 hurdles), Tobi Fawehinmi (triple jump), Roland Sales (high jump)
Taylor Davis (400), Ashly Wright (800), Tamerah Gorham (800), Gabriela Alfonzo (5,000), Chineme Obikudu (triple jump)
4x100 (Clayton Vaughn, Quentin Butler, Cameron Newson, Tarik Crear)
4x400 (Ashly Wright, Tamerah Gorham, Taylor Davis, Dasia Rolfe)