I hope you remember Sean McLean of Southeast Raleigh. I’ve celebrated him here before, sharing the glare of his rising star in track and field.
I’m at it again.
In November, McLean, 22, was officially welcomed into the Nike family. Yes, that Nike.
On Jan. 18, he ran his first professional race – the 60-meter dash at the Winston-Salem State Open at the city’s JDL Fast Track. His time: 6.61 seconds.
It was a double repeat for McLean. Two wins, two facility records.
At the same meet in January 2014, he won the same sprint, setting the facility record with 6.67 seconds.
It was a pivotal race, and not only because of the record. McLean awoke that morning to news that a friend, Michael “Tank” Tolbert, had been shot and killed outside a club on Capital Boulevard in Raleigh.
“It was definitely motivation to run well,” McLean said. “He always told me, ‘You’re talented; stick to your dreams because a lot of people don’t have an outlet and opportunity to do something positive, something different.’
“I see when you do, you see there’s so much more out there.”
I’m happy to tell McLean’s story. His parents, Terry and Ike McLean, are my friends since youth, and Sean was the wedding ring-bearer at my wedding.
But even more than those heartfelt notables, I’m reminded, as we mourn the violence that kills Trayvon Martins and Michael Browns everywhere far too soon, we must intentionally focus on the successes we also see all around us.
They are out there.
“It’s exciting, yet unexplainable. To see your kid go out, put in hard work on a daily basis to compete at the highest level, and have success as the end result, it’s just amazing,” said Terry McLean, who advises his son to take one practice, one race at a time. “That’s how you make the finals and win championships.”
That 2014 race in Winston-Salem qualified McLean for last February’s 2014 USA Indoor Track & Field Championships in Albuquerque, N.M. He ran unattached under long-time coach Kesrick Fraser and placed fourth in the 100-meter dash. It was his national television debut.
That performance roused the attention of Los Angeles-based track and field agent Tony “TC” Campbell.
“No one really knew who he was,” Campbell said.
One person, he said, identified McLean as a junior champion, referring to medals won in 2010 and 2011 that also led to a city of Raleigh proclamation in McLean’s honor.
“He was an unknown commodity – and he was improving every round,” Campbell said. “I thought, ‘This guy just might be a diamond in the rough.’ ”
Here’s what’s happened since:
• In April, McLean competed in the Mt. SAC Relays at San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif., placing fourth in the 100-meter dash in a 10.18-second personal-best. Later that month, he won a 100-meter dash in 10.34 seconds at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia.
• In June, McLean took second in a 200-meter dash at the BVI Twilight Invitational. He ended June at the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships in Sacramento, Calif., placing third-fastest in the country.
• In July, McLean ran six races in four countries: Italy, Scotland, Austria and Monaco. He tied his own personal best of 20.41 seconds to win the 200 in Linz, Austria. In Monaco, he again ran the 200 alongside the world’s fastest.
The overseas travel was a professional learning curve. McLean experienced new physical demands, long travel and little sleep, adjusting to different cultures, foods and customs, Campbell said.
“Sean is probably the best up-and-coming combination sprinter,” he added, noting it’s rare to excel in both 100- and 200-meter sprints. “I wouldn’t put anything past him.”
McLean’s coach agrees.
“Everything is going in the right direction,” Fraser said. “It’s the start of something good.”