Fear has always driven Mike Flores.
At Maize High, where he was a state champion 400-meter runner, it was the fear of not reaching his potential. When he received a scholarship to Kansas, it was the fear of fitting in.
Flores let those fears grip him in the wrong ways. He partied too much, didn’t study at all and was kicked off the team at KU in his first semester. He bounced around for two more years, earning a reputation back in Wichita as a no-good troublemaker.
This weekend Flores will run for Wichita State at the Missouri Valley Championships, which begin today at Cessna Stadium. In this quest to remake himself, he’s now running from his biggest fear yet: Failure.
“I don’t want to be another one of those stories where a good athlete in high school goes out and messes up and turns into this burnout,” Flores said. “I never wanted to be like that. I don’t want people to view me like that.”
Flores never ran once at KU.
He was off the team before he was ever really on it. Coaches decided to dismiss him from the team before the first indoor race. Flores said he was dismissed for drinking and after marijuana was detected in a drug test. He said it could have been worse.
“There was so much stuff I did at KU, not even my coaches know about all of the stuff I was doing,” Flores said. “Stuff I didn’t even get in trouble for. Now all I can say is, ‘Wow.’ I really thought that I was doing something cool. I could have gotten in so much more trouble. I could have gotten hurt.”
Not much changed when he left to enroll at Kansas City Community College. He soon found himself in the same situation, surrounded by the wrong people without the ability to say no. Flores would run in three meets in his year at KCK.
Last spring, Flores pursued Wichita State coach Steve Rainbolt to talk about a possible return. He wasn’t proud of his past, but said the right things to convince WSU he was deserving of another chance.
“I do believe everything happens for a reason,” Flores said. “In some cases, I feel like I should have came to WSU first. But I’m kind of glad I didn’t because I was able to grow from what happened. I’m still growing and I still make mistakes, but nothing as major as what happened at KU.”
The prospect of returning home and recreating his life excited Flores. He enrolled in 14 hours of summer school and graduated from KCK.
But right before he was to begin the fall semester at Wichita State, Flores was involved in a serious car accident. The accident shook him to his core. The damages were more mental than physical (stitches up and down his arm with shards of glass still inside it).
Flores questioned himself, if he still had it in him to return. Then he found it, the extra drive that had gone missing up until the SPIRE Invitational on Feb. 11, where a furious comeback took from him from last to second.
“It made me believe what coach Bolt told me from the get-go,” Flores said. “He told me, ‘God doesn’t just give you talent and take it away.’ There’s still something deep within me and I just have to find it for myself. I’m looking for that deep inside me, but now I know it’s still there.”
The comeback isn’t complete.
But Flores is doing better in school, developing a stronger work ethic and cleansing himself of his troubled past. He said he no longer uses drugs. And last week he broke 48 seconds in the 400 to qualify for WSU’s conference team.
“I feel like he’s just grown up,” Rainbolt said. “He went through some very rough times and made a strong determination that he wanted to be a successful person. I think he just turned over a new leaf last summer.”
There are some people who still reject Flores. Friends have cut ties, convinced he can’t change.
It stings Flores. He wants to prove to everybody what he can be, but mostly he wants to prove to himself.
“I still wouldn’t say I’m that mature, but I definitely think things through a lot more now,” Flores said. “I feel like the reason why I have done so much better than anybody, even myself, thought this year is because I re-evaluated myself. I want to be proud of who I am and the choices I make. I’m trying to become the man I want to be in the future.”