Johnny Dutch has been trained to clear 36-inch high hurdles over a 400-meter course.
He is the U.S. national champion and just returned to Clayton from a successful competitive tour of Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Belgium and China.
But the biggest hurdles are harder to handle. Dutch, at age 25, is adjusting to getting older.
His goal is to to remain among the world’s fastest hurdlers long enough to qualify for the United States Olympic team that will travel to Rio De Janeiro in May 2016.
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Dutch will hone that drive to be almost all-consuming during the next couple of years as he pursues an Olympic medal. Making an Olympic team has been his mountain top since he began competitive running.
But the former Clayton High and NCAA champion at South Carolina expects that he has sailed over more hurdles than he will have to step over in the future.
He faced the precariousness of an athletic career last year when he battled injuries and wondered if he’d ever be fast again. He unexpectedly lost his Nike sponsorship and his training wasn’t going well because of a series of minor injuries before he rebounded in June by winning the USA Outdoor Track & Field National Championship in Sacramento, Calif.
“It sort of hit me that you can only compete so long,” Dutch said recently during a training break designed to allow his body to recuperate from the season. “At most, I have a few more years of competitive racing. Then what? Who will I be? I want to be more than, ‘Johnny Dutch. I used to run hurdles.’ ”
Curtis Frye, Dutch’s coach at South Carolina, said the star hurdler had always been an atypical track star because he is realistic about athletics.
“Few athletes think about the future, but they should. Johnny always has been thinking about the future,” Frye said. “He wasn’t one of those guys who is in danger of flunking out of school because he was training too much. His college decision was based on what he wanted to major in, not athletics.
“A lot of other athletes should be realists, but being a realist can hold you back. A lot of the world’s best are completely sold out and they have no options. Johnny isn’t like (that).”
Dutch fell in love with motion pictures when he was 16, after his mother gave him a movie camera for Christmas. He majored in film production at South Carolina, surprising himself in the process.
“Once I got to college in my freshman year, the academic counselor asked me what I wanted to major in and I told her running,” Dutch said. “For a while, I didn’t care anything about going to school. I just wanted to run.
“But I came to love my classes. By the time I was a senior, I was sad that I was graduating. I wanted to learn more.”
Part of his pensiveness is a result of his frustration with his film making. He had planned to do a series of films and post them online. He had a hard time finding other people to match his passion. Dutch does the films to hone his art, but the people who work with him want to be paid.
“If you hire all of your actors, it gets really expensive,” he said. “And if you don’t pay them, it is hard to get the dedication. ‘Yes, you’ve got to put blood on your face.’ ‘Yes, we’re going to start filming at 5 a.m.’ If they don’t have your passion, it is hard to keep at it. Consistency is the key.”
Dutch’s YouTube film “Inconspicious” was intended to be the first of a series, but he currently doesn’t have plans to continue the series. He filmed scenes for an apocalyptic film last week in Raleigh and Clayton.
“Zombies are really big now,” he said.
One of the reasons he moved from Miami back to Clayton was his film making. He has friends and relatives in Clayton who he thinks will support his movies. Extras might be a little easier to find than in Miami.
Eventually, Dutch would like to be taken under the tutelage of someone like Quentin Tarantino or Tyler Perry.
The time is drawing near, though, when he will have to focus almost totally on training and pushing himself.
He wants to go faster.
“People don’t understand what it takes to run fast,” Dutch said. “You are gifted, but you have to work so hard. It gets harder, not easier to run fast.”
He said he might train by running 300-meters hurdles in 36.5 seconds with a five-minute break before running another. Hurdle, rest, hurdle, rest, hurdle, rest.
“Then you move to running them in 36 seconds, then 35 and keep pushing to get to 34 seconds,” he said. “That’s why you have to have the right people around you to push you, to keep you motivated.”
Dutch won nine N.C. High School Athletic Association hurdles state championships at Clayton and was an NCAA champion at South Carolina. But Frye said he saw a new side to Dutch at U.S. championships.
“I now think he’ll make the World Championship team and the Olympics,” Frye said. “He has a lot more experience than some of the other guys. You can just tell that he is ready. He is really talented and he knows how to focus.”
Dutch talked about his future, his films, his passions during his break from serious training, but soon the switch will be flicked and clearing hurdles will be his mission.
“My dreams still are in hurdling – doing well in the World Championships in Beijing, making the Olympic team and medaling – but I guarantee you I won’t be running the hurdles 50 years from now,” he said. “There is going to be a crossroads sometime and I’m going to have to take a different path. There has to be a Plan B and a Plan C.”
But right now, there are the zombies.