Rialto native Damein White admits he had ulterior motives for taking up track. He liked the fact that it could pay for his education if he were good. But there was something he liked even better.
“My friends told me it was a good way to get girls,” he said with a chuckle.
While that may have been the impetus to get started, White, a junior at Cal State Los Angeles, has quickly risen through the ranks to earn a place in the 200-meter dash at the United States Olympic Trials, which start today and run through July 6 in Eugene, Ore.
Not bad for a guy that only took up the sport when he started college three years ago.
“It was a chance to better myself,” he said. “If they’re going to pay me to go school, why not do it?”
White spent his freshman year at Garey High School, but transferred to Rialto the following year when his family moved from Pomona to San Bernardino. He excelled in football, playing tight end on the same team with Ryan Grice-Mullen, who went on to star as a wide receiver at the University of Hawaii.
College was not originally in White’s plans. After finishing high school he got a job making decent money and even moved out on his own.
It was close friend and Rialto teammate Francis Nunez that convinced him to come with him to a track practice at Riverside Community College, where Nunez was competing.
Then-coach Aaron Goodman remembers Nunez bringing his friend.
“He (Nunez) said he had this friend that wanted to try out with us,” Goodman recalled. “I didn’t think anything of it at the time because we have guys come in here all the time and we never turn them away. He didn’t have any technique but he had potential.”
White spent that year working on the technical aspects of the sport, since he was just a rookie. The Tigers had several sprint specialists so his contribution came on relays.
The following year Goodman went over to Long Beach City as sprint coach, with White and Nunez following him. The move paid off, as White won a state championship in the 200 meters and placed third in the 400. Being a quick study helped.
“A lot of guys come to college and they think they know everything,” he said. “I had never competed before so I knew I didn’t know anything. I really listened to what my coaches told me, let it sink in and went out and did it.”
Some Division I schools were interested, including Arizona State. But White, 22, chose to stay closer to home and go to Cal State Los Angeles along with Nunez.
It helped that Goodman had a strong working relationship with Eagles coach Christopher Asher, who has many of the same philosophies.
“I wasn’t taken in by the whole Division I thing,” White said. “You can run fast anywhere.”
White’s showing with the Eagles this season put him on the map. He took first in the 100 and 200 and ran the second leg of a winning 4×100 relay at the CCAA championships.
His time of 20.55 in the 200 was a personal best and met the provisional qualifying standard for the upcoming trials. It also ranked him first nationally among Division II athletes.
At the Division II nationals at Cal Poly Pomona, White finished second in the 200 and sixth in the 100, both won by junior Dennis Boone of St. Augustine. The relay team, which also included Nunez, placed third with a school record time of 40 seconds flat.
He didn’t take any time off after that meet, shifting his focus to the trials. Asher isn’t worried about having two big meets so close together.
“We have really been working him more toward this one any way,” Asher said. “Division I athletes have it tougher because they only have 10 days between the two. He has had five weeks.”
White admits he is still new enough in the sport that gets excited about his surroundings. He is a big fan of Tyson Gay, the top American and world record holder in the 200.
“I’ll probably be the only guy out there racing against him, then asking for his autograph,” White said.
Coincidentally, White’s specialty comes up July 4.
“I plan on providing the fireworks,” he laughed.
White’s future appears to be bright. He has achieved good results in a short time even though he admits he doesn’t like lifting weightsa distaste for weightlifting and he isn’t good about watchingis lax about his diet.
Asher would also like to see him start running the 400 meters, something Goodman has always pushed as well.
All know that this likely won’t be his first Olympic trials. He could have at least two more after this.
“There is still a lot he doesn’t know. But he’s getting there,” Asher said. “Male runners don’t usually reach their peak till at least their mid 20′s. And he still is relatively new to the sport. He has great potential. This is just the start for him. He can go as far in this sports as he wants to go.”