The words of wisdom come from USC's director of track and field Ron Allice.
"Why could anybody be possibly scared about running a race when they may have to run from being hurt seriously in the street?" asks Allice. "What are the consequences to not having a good day on the track in relation to a loss of a someone in your family?
"That keeps things in perspective."
Allice is talking, indirectly, about his track star, senior sprinter Ahmad Rashad, who has quite the story. After three mostly successful seasons at USC, Rashad, a Flint, Mich. native who lost his mother as a 16-year-old high school junior and his grandmother while in college, appears to be peaking — and at just the right time. With legitimate hopes to win the 100-meter national title come June, Rashad's also the clear favorite to win the 100- and 200-meter titles in the Pac-10 championships this weekend.
A win in either race would make the 5-foot-10 speedster the first conference sprinter to be a three-time winner since the event switched from yards to meters in 1976, an accomplishment not at all lost on his coaches. They credit it not to sheer athletic ability but, rather, to a rare sense of discipline and wherewithal, an elegant running style and an attention to detail unheard of among most top-flight sprinters.
"He's certainly the finest sprinter that we've had at USC in my 16 years here," Allice says. "We've had other more explosive athletes, other more durable athletes, but nobody's run as fast as he has. I don't think there is anyone that is more graceful and fluid in his movements as Ahmad."
As a freshman, Rashad was already highly-touted as the Trojans' top short-distance runner, specializing in the 100 and 200-meter races. Since then, he's worked on a variety of aspects on and off the track. His sprints coach, ex-Long Beach State sprinter John Henry Johnson, says Rashad has made "really significant technical leaps" relating to the start of races but also mentions eating habits and day-before-race preparation.
"The biggest difference in Ahmad now is that he's really taken ownership in all of the details of becoming a champion sprinter," Johnson says. "He's not just out there running anymore."
Not that you could blame him if he was. Plenty of minds would be elsewhere given all that has happened to Rashad recently. But, in an unusual way, Rashad's running benefited from losses.
"I can't imagine how difficult that must have been for him, at such a young age," Johnson said. "It's obviously built a lot of internal strength in him, in knowing that he can overcome so manythings."
See, just as Allice said, the prospect of winning or losing a track meet tends to matter a lot less when compared to the prospect of winning or losing a loved one. And, to Rashad, the potential for competition is anything but scary.
More like easy, almost.
"With my mother dying and my grandmother dying within these last five years, that was something hard to deal with," Rashad said. "I take that with me every time I go to the track. And it doesn't really overwhelm me to run against competition, just because of what I've been through."
He tends to overwhelm the competition, though — when healthy, at least. Rashad missed most of his sophomore season due to a nagging hamstring injury and has missed stints due to other injuries throughout his four years in Troy. Still, at his best, Rashad is a real threat to the 10-second mark in the 100-meter and even more of a threat to sprinters nationwide.
Or, as Allice says, "he is poetry on the track."
Poetry aside, Rashad, 22, still has plenty of room for improvement.
"I think that we're a few years away from anything approaching a limit," Johnson says. "He's still not as strong as I'd like him to be, there's still things in practice that he hasn't accomplished that other sprinters I've had have had.
"He's going to continue to get better — significantly — in the next three or so years."
As for now, Pac-10 preliminaries in the 100- and 200-meter races and 4x100-meter relays were held Saturday, and, as expected, Rashad qualified for the finals in each of them.
Records could be broken, but Rashad's goals aren't to break into the USC 100-meter all-time list or set a personal record or any of that jazz. He has very specific goals for Sunday's races, and — fittingly — for every race he comes across in the future.
What exactly are they?
"Just win," Rashad says. "Just win."