Feature Story: Vaughn's journey much longer than a sprint
Feb. 18, 2014
By Drew Harris | UTAMavs.com
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Clayton Vaughn's journey over the past year has been much, much longer than his 60-meter dash that has garnered so much attention.
It's understandable why the UT Arlington senior's eye-popping 60-meter time (6.55 seconds) recorded at the Frank Sevigne Husker Invitational on Feb. 8 made people locally, as well as track fans and followers across the nation, stand up and take notice.
It even had Vaughn himself doing a double take--first, when he saw the unofficial time (6.57) on the scoreboard, and next, when he saw it corrected to an official clocking of 6.55.
"I was pretty excited," he said. "I knew I had a good start, but I didn't think it was going to be as fast as it was."
His time continues to rank as the best 60-meter time in the NCAA this season, and the mark obliterated Vaughn's own school record (6.61) set two years ago when the then-sophomore placed fifth at the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships.
Delving even deeper, it ranks as the fourth-fastest time in the United States this year and is 11th in the world this season.
It's an amazing accomplishment in itself, but there's much more to the story than those 60 blinding meters in Lincoln, Neb.
That's because saying that the past 12 months have been rocky for Vaughn would be a tremendous understatement.
Last March, at the UTA Bobby Lane Invitational, Vaughn suffered a stress break of his fibula less than 10 meters into his leg of the 4x100-meter relay. Not only did it deny the Maverick Stadium crowd the chance to see one of the greatest sprinters in school history show his stuff on home turf, it denied Vaughn a chance to compete for the remainder of the 2013 outdoor season.
"When I got injured last year it was really depressing because I had been running really well," Vaughn said. "And right when it happened, I knew it was an injury I hadn't had before."
But the long road back, one that included hours upon hours of rehabilitation, loads of patience and a huge amount determination, took a much tougher turn over the Thanksgiving holiday. That's when Vaughn's mother became ill and passed away unexpectedly.
"Everything I've been trying to do this year has been for my mom," Vaughn said. "It's been my main focus. Even in practices when I'm tired I just figure you've dealt with worse. It just pushes me further."
Just to get into the starting blocks this year takes fortitude. To do what Vaughn has done has been nothing short of spectacular.
"He's had to grow up fast," UT Arlington coach John Sauerhage said. "I can't say enough good things about him. Hopefully the rest of his life he'll realize that with effort and perseverance come results. There will be some great life lessons here that will carry over."
In addition to his nation-leading time, Vaughn has claimed Sun Belt Conference Male Track Athlete of the Week honors all three weeks in which he's competed. He's won the 60-meter dash in every meet and owns the league's top time in both the 60m and the 200m, despite only running that race twice.
"I've been through a lot of humbling experiences where you go through things and now I'm more focused," Vaughn said.
His first humbling track experience came in seventh grade when he tried out for his junior high's sprint relay team and didn't make the cut. However, he stuck with the team, actually running long-distance events that year.
A native of Sulphur Springs, Texas, he later moved to San Antonio. As happens with many youngsters in the football hotbed of Texas, Vaughn was primarily interested in that sport. However, after his sophomore year of high school, when he helped his team to a third-place finish in the 4x100 meters, he fell in love with track and began to realize that it might be his calling.
Vaughn continued to impress, and he received interest from a number of major college programs. However, an injury during his prep days turned many schools away from Vaughn in search of other blue-chip recruits.
Not UT Arlington, however. Sauerhage and his staff continued to recruit the speedster and ultimately landed their man.
"He exemplifies all the qualities you dream about in an athlete," Sauerhage said. "He's so dedicated to his craft. He's mentally tough. He's focused. He takes care of his business 24/7. Everything's about being the best he can be."
At UTA he has blossomed under the tutelage of assistant coaches Jordan Hawkins Alexander, a three-time All-American at Arizona State, and Tyrone Edgar, a 2008 Olympian for Great Britain. At UTA, he has gone from the mentality of "I just ran" into a strong technical sprinter.
"I figure that I ended up where I think God wanted me to end up," Vaughn said.
This is his final indoor season, and he has sights set on All-America honors for a third straight year. He was a first-team honoree in 2012 after his fifth-place NCAA finish and was a second-team selection last year after taking ninth at nationals.
Due to last season's injury in the second meet of the outdoor season, Vaughn has a medical redshirt season and will be able to compete in the 2014 and 2015 outdoor campaigns.
"He's a great kid," Sauerhage said. "I wish he had 10 years of eligibility. He exemplifies a student-athlete."
His time in a UTA uniform may be limited, but he still has plenty of chances to make his mark even more indelible.
He will enter next week's Sun Belt Indoor Championships with a chance to complete another "double." Last year, Vaughn won both the 60m and 200m at the Western Athletic Conference meet in thrilling fashion. Following the SBC meet, he will be among 16 individuals competing in the 60m at the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships in Albuquerque, N.M., on March 14-15.
Vaughn's running style is most comparable to that of American Walter Dix, his favorite professional sprinter and a bronze medalist in the 100m and 200m at the 2008 Olympics. Both men are power runners and are similar in stature (Vaughn is 5-8, while Dix is 5-9).
After college, Vaughn's goal is to follow in Dix's footsteps by becoming a professional sprinter, but he knows that road isn't going to be smooth either.
"It's something that's not easy," Vaughn said. "It's all about staying healthy and being able to continue to run fast. There's a lot more to go."
But Vaughn's life lessons have helped him realize that anything is possible, and while the road may be long, it can be navigated.
"As long as you have the drive and dedication to do something, you can," Vaughn said.