Cayman sprinter Jamal Walton outran his competitors and the history book when he won the 400 meters at the Pan American Junior Championships last week and logged the fastest time by a high school student in 35 years.
Walton finished in 44.99 seconds to set a new meet record and became just the second high school student – after Darrell Robinson in 1982 – to break the 45-second barrier.
His time also crushed Obea Moore’s 22-year-old Pan Am Junior record (45.17) and ranks No. 2 on the U.S. High School all-time list.
Walton, who has yet to begin his final year at Miramar High School in Florida, beat the qualifying standard for the last Olympics – 45.05 seconds – and may be pointing toward the 2020 Summer Games. For now, though, the 18 year old is just working out with his local track club and trying to reach the peak of his ability.
“It was exciting,” said Walton when asked about his experience at the Pan American Junior Championships in Peru. “I didn’t know I was going to run under 45.00 or actually break a record.”
Walton has had some ardent supporters pushing him forward. He recently went back to train with coach Darius Lawshea and the Miami Gardens Xpress Track & Field Club, where he began his journey as a shy seven year old.
Lawshea coached Walton from the time he was seven until he reached 16, and then the sprinter tried new coaches to get him over the top. He came back to Miami Gardens a little less than a month ago, and Lawshea said they have been working on strength and finishing through the tape.
“He’s been going back to the old Jamal,” said Lawshea. “We went back to our roots, which is a grass workout. We started working on finishing and lifting more. Going to the finish line with speed and endurance. That’s what we were working on and it seemed like it paid off. Normally, people run him down. This time, he was able to finish and hold it. He definitely worked on that the last two weeks.”
Walton said Tuesday that he does not yet know where he will go to college, and he also said that he’s not really tempted to try to compete for the United States. His heart remains with his homeland in the Cayman Islands, and his coach said that his transition to American life was difficult at first.
“He’s a different kid,” said Lawshea. “When I first met him at seven years old, a lot of kids used to pick at him because he was straight from the Cayman Islands. He didn’t say much. American kids could be kind of mean to him, so I took him under my wing and just kept training him.
“From age eight to age 12, he just couldn’t figure it out. There were about five kids faster than him on his own team. But his breakout year came at 13, when he put the whole world on notice and ended up winning the 400 at the Junior Olympics. He never looked back from there. From then on, nobody beat him again from this team.”
Walton does have one friendly rival in Tyrese Cooper, a 17-year-old sprinter who finished second in the 200 meters at the Pan American Junior Championships, despite being the youngest runner in the field. Lawshea said they are making each other faster as they speed toward reaching their goals.
Recently, Walton decided to drop the 200 meters in order to focus on the 400, and he said he went back to his old track club because it felt comfortable and it felt like it could push him to a higher plane.
“That’s been my coach since I was a kid,” he said of Lawshea. “I thought if I could be with him again, my times will probably drop a couple of seconds. He’s a good coach.”
Walton’s best times may still be in the future. Lawshea said he’s seen his charge run a low 44-second split in a relay, and he believes he can keep improving over the next few years. Walton will be just 21 when the Tokyo Olympic Games begin in July 2020, and primed to bring home a medal.
“One day, he’s going to be able to write a book about everything he went through,” said Lawshea. “That kid went through a lot. His mother stayed in the Cayman Islands and he went to the United States to make a better life. People don’t understand. That’s tough. He was away from his mother all those years.
“He visits, but it’s tough. People have sacrificed for him. They knew he was special a long time ago.”