Trayvon Bromell swore off sprinting — all sports, really — after taking his third ride to the hospital in as many years.
Among his injuries:
— Severely injured left knee on a back flip gone wrong in eighth grade.
— Damaged right knee while grabbing a rebound during a basketball tournament in ninth grade.
— Cracked hip in a 100-meter race as a sophomore.
On his way to the doctor after hurting his hip, he told his mom, "Let's just stop here before I can't walk anymore."
Time healed those wounds and Bromell has bounced back to become one of the top American sprinters. The 20-year-old may even be the one to give Usain Bolt a run for the gold medal at the Rio de Janeiro Games if he makes the 100-meter team at Olympic Trials this week. It won't be automatic with Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay and Mike Rodgers around, along with the fact that Bromell has been dealing with a tender Achilles in the lead-up to trials.
"My biggest dream was to go to the Olympics, but I never knew how I was going to be there," said Bromell, who kicks off his quest to reach Rio with a 100-meter heat Saturday and is entered in the 200. "If I could go as a spectator, just to sit and watch, my dream would have come true. But to actually be there and compete? I just might lose my mind."
At 5-foot-9, 156 pounds, nobody will confuse Bromell with Bolt, who is 6-5, 205.
Bromell's small frame hasn't slowed him down. He turned pro last fall after two NCAA titles at Baylor. Bromell hired the same agent as Bolt and signed a shoe deal with New Balance.
"This image of, 'Oh, you have to have this look to be great.' Well, you don't," said Bromell, who's from St. Petersburg, Florida. "I want to show everyone that it is possible."
That's partly because he never thought he'd even be in this place, especially after fracturing his hip in high school — the final straw, he figured, in his athletic career. One moment Bromell was flying down Lane 6 and the next he woke up on the grass after blacking out because of pain.
Time for a new path. Maybe as an engineer, he thought. Or as a tattoo artist or maybe a stint in the Army.
His mom, though, convinced him to give it one more shot.
So, once his hip healed, back to the track he went. Bromell's first race back wasn't that spectacular — he ran 11.33 seconds, which was well off his personal best. But it may have been one of his best races because it rekindled his desire.
Bromell was named Gatorade's national track and field athlete of the year in 2013, in part because he ran the fastest time ever (9.99 seconds) by a U.S. prep athlete regardless of wind conditions. He also won the USA junior championships.
Turns out, he actually recruited Baylor. The Bears were known more for producing 200- and 400-meter runners such as Michael Johnson and Jeremy Wariner, but Bromell signed up and set all sorts of records. He holds the top-10 fastest 100 times at Baylor.
"Nothing really surprises me when Trayvon gets on the track," said Baylor associate coach Michael Ford, who trains Bromell. "He's got an inner focus that I haven't seen from a young sprinter, especially one on this big of stage."
At the 2015 world championships in Beijing, he tied for the bronze medal in the 100 with Andre De Grasse of Canada. Three months ago, he gained more confidence by winning the 60-meter race at the world indoor championships in Portland over a field that included Jamaican Asafa Powell.
"I've always been a confident person. I don't fear too many things," Bromell said. "No man on this earth will put fear in me."
Now, his time has come. And though reports say he's been dealing with an Achilles sprain since May, he has taken time off from meets and expects to be fresh — he told the Tampa Bay Times — for what's sure to be a competitive race for one of three spots.
"It all comes down to who has strongest mindset," Bromell said. "A lot of people don't see me big as a big threat, because of my stature and size. A lot of people count me out, just because people are bigger than me. At the end of the day, if you have stronger mindset you can overpower anyone."