John Cline has encountered his share of enthusiastic athletes. That’s one of the reasons his Myers Park squad has been one of the most successful track and field programs around during his eight-year tenure as coach: boys and girls who embraced Cline and his staff’s training and worked diligently to improve.
But back in 2009, when he received an e-mail from a recent Oklahoma middle-school graduate named Kwame Donyinah, even Cline was taken aback.
“(Donyinah) told me he was coming here and that he had done some running in middle school,” Cline recalled. “He was ready to get going that summer. I remember getting that e-mail and wondering who this guy was. As soon as he came out to practice, it was a privilege to get to know him. He was all about hard work.
“Kwame’s just the kind of kid that, as a coach, you have to hold him back because he wants to do as much as he can to make himself the best and fulfill his potential. He’s really intense with his workouts. He’s one of those special athletes, and that e-mail was just another indicator of how aggressive he is.”
So three years later, Cline isn’t at all surprised that Donyinah has become one of the state’s elite runners.
Now a Myers Park junior, Donyinah’s reputation as a tireless worker only has grown. He puts in the extra time – early mornings, late nights, weekends and holidays – to excel in the 400-meter dash and a few other events that have helped the Mustangs rack up the points this season.
Last weekend, Donyinah followed up his Southwestern 4A conference title in the 400 by claiming first place in the event at the 4A Western Regional meet in Boone. Donyinah blew away the field with a time of 48.64 seconds, which is impressive but isn’t hardly his best effort. That occurred on April 14 at the Carolina’s Cup meet at Winthrop University, when he sprinted around the track in 47.95 seconds, which currently ranks him 67th nationally in the 400.
Donyinah will be among the top contenders for a state championship in the event at the Class 4A state meet Saturday, May 19, at Greensboro’s N.C. A&T State University, but winning won’t be easy; although they’re separated by the narrowest of margins, Donyinah’s 47.96 clocking ranks third in the state behind reigning state champ Burkheart Ellis Jr. of Knightdale (47.57) and Brian Davis of Fuquay-Varina (47.89).
Of course, that only inspires Donyinah to work even harder.
“I’m No. 3 in the state by hundredths of a second,” Donyinah said, “and that definitely feels good, considering all the hard work that’s been going into it since I got to Myers Park. But I’m constantly trying to improve. I believe in myself. I try to work as hard as possible because I believe 100 percent that my times will drop if I do that. So I’ll never stop working. I’ll do whatever it takes.”
Donyinah believes maintaining that approach has been the difference during his third high school season.
Until this spring, he’d never broken the 50-second mark in the 400 meters, with his personal-best time last year being 50.82 in the 4A Western Regional meet. The first time he ran the event this season, he finished in 48.94. Donyinah and Cline said a major reason for the improvement is the hands-on coaching from Myers Park assistant Chris Wylie, who set the school’s 400 record (46.97) back in 1995.
“I want him to (break my school record) – that’s the whole point in me working with him,” Wylie said. “I’m training him to get him to that next level. He works so hard that the sky’s the limit, and it will all speak for itself.
“Last year, I think he wanted things too fast. I had to slow him down and tell him to be patient. Now that he’s doing that – a little bit, at least – everything’s going to be all right. He’s looking good out there. He knows what he can do.”
Donyinah, it seems, goes about everything in his life with fervor. Academically, he holds a 3.5 GPA and spends much of his time away from the track trying to improve it. “I’ve just been trying to keep the whole ‘student-athlete’ aspect of my life going,” he said.
Donyinah was born in Ghana, West Africa, and moved to New York when he was 2 years old. Soon, though, his family moved again, and he started kindergarten in Tulsa, Okla., where he later began running as a seventh-grader. He instantly was hooked and began to shine in the sport, following in the footsteps of his mother, Mary Donkor, who was a distance runner.
Then, just after Donyinah completed the eighth grade, the family left Oklahoma for Charlotte when his father, Eric, landed a new job.
“My older sister thought the IB honors program (at Myers Park) would be a good environment for me,” Donyinah said. “I also looked up the track program on milesplit(.com), and they had some good times. They had an 800 runner named Becca DeLoache, so I figured it would be a good place for me to go to develop into a better runner.”
That’s when he sent Cline the now-famous e-mail.
“I was an 800 runner at the time, and we didn’t really do cross country where I was in Oklahoma,” Donyinah said. “I just wanted to see if Coach Cline wanted me to do cross country to help with my distance training. I was ready to go, even though I wasn’t at the school yet.”
At Myers Park, however, Donyinah learned that he also had sprinter’s speed. The 5-foot-11, 160-pounder has competed in a range of events during his time with the Mustangs, including the 100 meters (11.24 seconds), 200 (22.14 seconds), 800 (1 minute, 59.20 seconds) and 4×800 relay. During indoor track season, he’s run the 55, 300 and 500.
His former Myers Park teammate, DeLoache, now is a sophomore runner for Georgetown University, and Donyinah aspires to compete after high school, too – although he isn’t necessarily limiting it to college.
“I plan to run until competition stops me from running,” he said with a smile. “Whatever level I can get to, I’m going to keep working to get there.”
Which is why, in the days leading to this weekend’s state meet, Donyinah’s training had intensified.
“I want to win,” Donyinah said during a short break from a workout. “And you can’t expect to win if you don’t put in the work.”