The once-promising track career of Oliver Bradwell, seemingly destined for the Olympics, is at a crossroads.
It’s a far cry from four years ago, when the East High product staked claim to being the fastest high school sprinter in the country with a nation’s best 100-meter time of 10.34 seconds and a 200 time of 20.99 after his senior year.
Now, after an extended period away from the track, Bradwell is trying to get back to that pinnacle. It’s a goal that, realistically, still isn’t out of reach.
The biggest obstacle just seems to be Bradwell himself.
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“People see me and always ask me about track and I tell them I’m still working on it, still keeping my dream alive,” said Bradwell, who turns 22 in August. “I know I’m running out of time, but I haven’t given up yet. It’s frustrating not to be where I think I should be, but I can’t dwell on the past.”
Where things began to fall apart for Bradwell can be traced back to the summer of 2011, after his freshman season at Barton Community College. Bradwell says he didn’t go back to Barton that fall because of “a lot of deaths in the family,” but also said he wouldn’t have been able to go back to Great Bend because of an unpaid bill with the school.
“It was just a lot of stuff going on in my life at the time,” Bradwell said. “I know now I should’ve gone back to school. I shouldn’t have left Barton.”
Bradwell says he battled injuries during his one year at Barton – particularly a nagging hamstring – and it needed time to heal.
It doesn’t explain, however, why he didn’t run in a race for the next two years.
And any explanation from Bradwell is, at best, muddled. Part injuries, part malaise, part apathy … whatever it was, he didn’t run.
“My hamstring took a long time to heal,” Bradwell said. “It would start to get better and then flare back up. For a long stretch of the two years, I wasn’t really doing anything at all.”
In that time, Bradwell lived with different people who had stakes in his track career. First, the manager of Bradwell’s former track club, Shawn Rooker, who took Bradwell in until about a year-and-a-half ago.
Bradwell lived with a cousin for about a year, then moved in with his longtime trainer John Thompson last fall, and resumed track workouts.
But Bradwell became upset that Thompson wanted him to train on his own part of the time as Thompson was focused on both the football and track career of his son, Northwest’s Deron Thompson.
Bradwell moved out of Thompson’s house at the end of January, moved in with friends and got a job working full-time unloading trucks at a local Wal-Mart, which he still has.
Deron, who signed to play football at Colorado State, won the Class 6A 100 and 200-meter titles in May.
John Thompson and Bradwell, despite their differences, still train together, and Thompson was the one who finally got him back on the track starting with some indoor meets starting in January at Friends, followed by meets at Wichita State and Nebraska.
The rust was evident but so was the talent – Bradwell ran in the 10.4 range.
“I sacrificed a lot of time with Deron when he was younger and I was training Oliver,” Thompson said. “This was Deron’s senior year and I had to be there for him as much as I could … what Oliver doesn’t realize is that because of changes in my job, which I have to do in order to pay the rent and the bills, I had to have Deron work out a lot on his own, too, because I was working different shifts. The difference was just that Oliver just wasn’t used to it. He’s used to having it all done for him.
“Time and experience teach you what’s really going on in your life. Hopefully Oliver continues to learn and grow because I think, if he can focus on what’s at hand, the sky is the limit for him. I don’t want him to become one of those legends that everybody on the street knows because they were good and then never fulfilled their potential. I’ve seen too many of those.”
The one thing everyone agrees upon is that it’s now or never for Bradwell. While he could very well have another decade of competitive running ahead of him, it’s the next two years that will determine whether or not that hoped-for career ever materializes. He needs to lift weights. He needs to train consistently.
The ultimate goal is to run in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Beyond that, Bradwell also plans on enrolling in classes at Butler Community College to get his education back on track. He said he was interested in possibly running for the Grizzlies and newly-hired Butler track and field coach Ryan Turner said he was open to meeting with Bradwell.
Or, he could continue to train on his own with Thompson or others and compete at meets unattached.
Either way, the hardest part of the journey still awaits.
“I play on going to the Olympic trials in 2016 and making the team, whether or not I have sponsors,” Bradwell said. “I’ll work a job, I’ll pay for every single track meet myself … I’ll do the work that needs to be done.”