On Halloween 2008, Bryshon Nellum, a student at USC, left a restaurant and was mistaken for someone else. He was shot at close range in the legs by two gang members. They used a shotgun: Three blasts, one in each thigh, one in the hamstring.
Bryshon was the first high school athlete in California history to win six track titles. He had the fastest high school times nationwide for the 200- and 400-meter races. He was selected as the Gatorade National Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year. USC track coach Ron Allice said Nellum was the fastest 19-and-under runner in the world at 400 meters. So there Bryshon was, leaving a Halloween party, at USC on a track and field scholarship, and those gang members blew his legs open with a sawed-off shotgun.
So what would a young man do when facing his would-be murderers? What could he do? They’d just nearly killed him, stunned him with such a shocking, violent and senseless act…what did he do next?
He ran. On torn and bloody legs, he ran away, ran to safety. Imagine that pain. The shock. The terror he must’ve felt. But he got to a hospital. “We are all committed to the fact that he will be back,” said his doctor at the time. But words like that are easy…and what the heck else do you say to a 19-year-old boy whose future has just been stolen?
“I was like a baby,” Bryshon said. “I had to learn how to crawl before I learned how to walk…I kept faith in God, took it day by day and kept working hard and stayed dedicated.”
Nine months later, by some miracle of grit and faith, Bryshon managed to qualify for the Olympic trials. It was a great Cinderella story, but he wasn’t expected to be much more than be just that: a sidebar. A nice story. The announcers barely mentioned him in the pre-meet chatter. Competing against him were the fastest young men in America…one held the world record for the 400. Just for Bryshon to have made it this far was a triumph. He had never even finished the 400-meter race in under 45 seconds, which to you and me sounds superhuman, but in the world of Olympic running is quite mediocre.
When the race began, Nellum was unremarkable. He certainly wasn’t going to beat the man who held the world’s record for the event: LaShawn Merritt, who was back in the sport after a 21-month drug ban. The first two slots would be clear: Tony McQuay and Merritt. Bryshon Nellum, he of the scarred and battered legs, fell immediately to the back of the pack, and only the top three would make it to the Olympics.
But with five seconds to go of this 44-second race, something remarkable happened. From seventh place, the young man with the scarred legs found something five of those faster runners lacked. Call it heart, call it justice, call it a miracle…but in a shocking upset, Bryshon Nellum finished third. And for the first time, he finished in under 45 seconds. His best time…ever.
Which was enough to put him on the Olympic Team.
According to Wiki-Answers, the odds of becoming an Olympic athlete are 636,000 to 1. The odds for a runner who’s been shot in both legs becoming an Olympic sprinter…um, do they even compute that kind of thing? And yet, in just a few weeks, he will represent the United States in the 400-meter, and while he’s not favored to win, you just know a piece of every heart will rooting for him.
Josh Mance, Bryshon’s USC teammate, finished fourth, just eight-one-hundredths of a second behind. He’d gone into the race with much better odds at making the Olympic team, collapsed at the finished line, clearly stunned…and then had this to say: “I’m more happy than anything that Bryshon got through. He is the story of the meet. He is a blessing.”
Said Bryshon of his attack: “My main thing was just why. Why, why, why? But after that it was just like OK, I have to put it all behind me. As long as they get what they deserve, I’m just going to do what’s going to better me. I’ll just keep on running.”
The word “Olympian” has just been redefined.