Vilseck sprinter had bigger hurdles off track
May 11, 2011
This story has been corrected
VILSECK, Germany — Vilseck senior sprinter Darius Whitehead has put up numbers in 2011 that are there for all to see. Chief among them is the DODDS-Europe 2011-best 10.78 seconds that Whitehead posted in a hand-timed 100 meters April 30 in Regensburg, Germany. That mark is hardly a fluke, Vilseck coach Eric Mead said Monday.“He’s been sub-11 several times,” Mead said.But times faster than 11 seconds don’t begin to describe Whitehead’s true speed. He’s also outrun a double dose of adversity that would leave most of the rest of us weighed down at the starting line.“My mother had a stroke when I was three,” Whitehead said Monday by telephone. “She couldn’t take care of me, and my stepmother (Osaro Grant, mother of former Vilseck sprint star Jamal Grant) and my biological father took care of me.”For Whitehead, being separated from his mother was just the first hurdle life placed in his way. As devastating as that loss must have been to a preschooler, tragedy slapped Whitehead again when his father passed away in 1999.“I was just in the second grade,” Whitehead recalled. “My stepmom kept me so I wouldn’t be taken into foster care. Without her, I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere.”Instead of bewailing the bad breaks that had come his way, Whitehead began making the most of the opportunity his stepmother’s generous spirit provided.“I stayed home about two weeks when my biological father died,” Whitehead said, “then I became determined to make sure I was good at everything.”Whitehead’s determination to be good at everything still shows in everything he does.In the classroom, he’s an honor student who’s planning to study mechanical engineering this fall at the University of South Florida. On the track, where he’ll be running the 100 and 200 meters and legs of the 4x100 and 1,600 sprint medley relays at Europeans, he has already accomplished his goal of running a better time than his brother Jamal.That is just one of his goals, however. “I want to break the record in the 100 meters,” Whitehead said.The school record, or Isaiah Fluellen’s DODDS-Europe mark of 10.50 set in 2001?“Both,” Whitehead replied. “The school record is 10.6, and I’m close to that.”And Whitehead, who said he’s a slow starter, hopes to threaten Fluellen’s mark by improving his technique a bit between now and the European championships May 20-21. “He’s a tall (6-0), upright sprinter,” Mead said. “We’ve been trying to get him to stay low coming out of the blocks.” Even if he misses the record, Whitehead’s determined to earn the 100-meter title that eluded him last spring, when he finished a disappointing fifth in 11.38.“There were four false starts in that race,” Mead recalled. “I think they got the better of him.”This year, Whitehead sees the competition in the 100 coming from Wiesbaden’s Nicholas Colbert and Roscoe Johnson. Both Warriors have broken 11 seconds this season, but even so, they’re part of the reason Whitehead’s glad he’s been able to stay in Vilseck since he was 4 years old. Colbert and Johnson are his friends as well as rivals, he said.“I’ve enjoyed it here,” Whitehead said. “It’s a lot more relaxed. The sprinters here all talk to each other. I don’t think you’d get that in the States.”
CORRECTIONWhitehead's time for the 100-meter run was originally incorrect.