Big 12 Campus Correspondent
As a self-described track nerd, James Gilreath spends a lot of time around the sport he loves. He enjoys the satisfaction that comes when hard work and perseverance are rewarded with victory.
Perseverance has been at a premium for Gilreath during his time at Baylor. He suffered a stress fracture in his tibia during his freshman year and then multiple hamstring injuries after that, but those setbacks were minute compared to the loss of his father and best friend, Joseph Gilreath, in the summer of 2009.
"I can't really put it into words," Gilreath said of his loss. "I try to channel that as positive energy and just think about the things my dad faced in life and the values he instilled inside of me. I think about that and try to push it for the positive."
His father was heavy on his heart last spring as he claimed the 2010 Big 12 Indoor 800-meter title as the last qualifier to the event's final.
"It was a really big accomplishment, because I always felt I was in shape, even when I wasn't running well, but I just needed that breakthrough moment to get my confidence up," Gilreath said. "It was a relief, because my father had just passed and it brought everything together."
Gilreath had finally persevered, after months of rehabbing through a multitude of injuries and watching his father decline as he battled cancer, the burden of securing that first victory had been lifted.
"Just to see him make that break through last year was huge," Baylor track coach Todd Harbour said. "He ran a 1:48 indoors and broke the school record and won the Big 12. We knew he could do it. It was just a matter of in his mind, believing that he could. He just went out and took charge and ran an incredible race."
The history of Baylor track is littered with Olympic medals and world record times won and set by the likes of Michael Johnson, Jeremy Wariner and Darold Williamson. It is because of those former BU greats that Gilreath is running track in green and gold.
"I always knew a little bit about Baylor," Gilreath said. "I knew this is where Michael Johnson went. I remember the 2004 Olympic trials and Jeremy (Wariner) and Darold Williamson were the highlights of that meet and that really was electrifying to me."
However, even before he looked up to Johnson, Wariner and Williamson, Gilreath was a spectator at his older sister's track meet back home in Tennessee. When it came time for the boys his age to run, Gilreath watched with undivided attention and as the last competitor crossed the finish line, he turned to his father confidently declaring, "I could beat all of those guys."
His father made him walk his talk and signed Gilreath up for track soon afterwards, "and the rest is history."
The chiseled body of the 6-foot-3-inch Gilreath now glides effortless around any track putting on a show of grace in motion for any spectator.
"He just has a combination of speed and strength," Harbour said. "He is not afraid to go out and take a race. He is definitely strong and we have developed his strength and he hasn't lost any of his speed, so he is in a good place right now."
Off the track and in the classroom, Gilreath is an accounting major in the Hankamer School of Business and has an internship lined up with worldwide accounting firm Ernst & Young over the summer.
"James is just one of those high character young men," Harbour said. "Just watching how much he has grown since he has been here has been one of my joys as a coach. We have been blessed to have him for sure."
As the 2011 Indoor track season dawns, Gilreath will do what he has always done. He will put in countless hours running, watching film and lifting all with smile on his face. He will continue to persevere.