The advice was simple enough, words Kwame Donyinah had heard countless times since he started running the 400-meter dash for Myers Park High School three years ago.
“One of my coaches said all I needed to do was get out fast and I would run a good race,” Donyinah recalled of the minutes leading up to the race at the Class 4A state championships in Greensboro last month.
The Mustangs junior indeed got off to a fast start, putting himself in prime winning position over the first 300 meters – but Fuquay-Varina’s Brian Davis was a little faster.
“(Davis) had just edged me right when we got to the last straightaway,” Donyinah recalled. “I knew it was going to be tough.”
That’s when Donyinah went into a different gear, overtaking Davis with about 60 meters left in the race. At that point, Donyinah was determined not to let Davis, who had a better national ranking entering the competition, wrest the victory from him.
“I just knew I had to have a strong finish,” Donyinah said. “I just kind of said to myself, ‘I work really hard at practice, and I always run through the (finish) line. I’ve got to finish.’”
Moments later, Donyinah accomplished his season-long goal of winning a state title, crossing in 47.48 seconds, making him the only runner to finish below the 48-second mark and giving him the 48th-fastest time in the nation this year.
Because of his title-winning performance, and the fact that he never lost a 400-meter race this season, Donyinah also is Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group’s 2012 Southern Mecklenburg Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year.
In addition, Donyinah was the top 400-meter man in the Southwestern 4A conference and at the 4A Western Regional meet last month. His only two losses during the season came while competing in two different events: the 200 (second place) and the 800 (fourth). He also competed on Myers Park’s 400 relay team that brought home a regional title.
But winning gold in the open 400, his favorite event, was something he’d focused on all season.
“I was prepared to set a new personal record,” Donyinah said. “That’s my goal every time I go out to those big meets like states. I expect to have a good time. I look forward to those moments. But you never know what’s going to happen, and it really did feel amazing to work so hard and to be rewarded for that.
“I just felt proud that I was able to represent my school and show how far you can go with hard work.”
Not that Donyinah’s satisfied with that accomplishment.
“I have yet to show my 100- and 200-meter speed,” he said. “I haven’t done my weightlifting and everything I can do to improve. Those (100 and 200) times will drop soon, as long as I keep working, and I’ll be able to carry that over to the 400.
“I should break 47 (seconds) pretty soon and do even better next year.”