Race for Success

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Derrick White finds success at UGA, on and off the track

By Kennington Smith

As Derrick White crouched into his stance, emotions and anxiety filled his body. In the moments before the biggest race of his life, 2013 GHSA AAAAA state championships, all he could do is think back to his seventh grade English class, and his teacher Mrs. Singh.

In a writing assignment assigned by Mrs. Singh, students were asked to write their goals and career aspirations. While most students put doctor, lawyer or politician, White wrote that he wanted to be a pro athlete.

The response that he received when she read his paper changed the course of his life forever.

“She told me that my dreams were unrealistic and unlikely to happen; she advised me to reevaluate my goals,” he said. “Ever since that day, I used her words to push me to my full potential.”

After roughly 49 seconds in the 400m dash and 22 seconds in the 200m dash, White finished 3rd overall (in both races). His performance was impressive enough to gain the attention of Georgia track & field head coach Wayne Norton and his staff.

“Whenever we recruit we examine whether this person can not only score at the SEC level, but can they do it on a national scale,” Norton said. “We felt he {White} had the potential to come in and be a great contributor.”

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White signed to Georgia that spring to run the 200m and 400m dash. He with two other sprinters, Reggie Glover, the top ranked 400m runner in the nation in 2013, and Brandon Thompson, another highly recruited runner, were brought in with the potential to take the program to the next level.

One would typically expect incoming athletes to feel a great amount of pressure from the outside world, as well as from themselves to live up to expectations in the early portions of their college careers.

However, White looked at the experience from a different angle, seeing his teammates as resources more than rivals.

“I don’t really look at my teammates as competition, I look at them as mentors and friends,” White said. “I just try to build off the good things they do and learn from the bad ones.”

As any eager freshman athlete would do, White set goals for himself, which included beating his personal best times from high school and placing at certain meets.

However, he found the adjustment process to be very difficult through his opening indoor season. While in high school, White wasn’t accustomed to running on indoor tracks, which plagued him early on. Though he vastly improved toward the end of the season, including strong performances at the SEC indoor championships, he failed to reach many of the marks he set for himself.

When faced with the opportunity to become discouraged with his performances, White used them as a learning experiences and motivation to prove to his teammates and coaches that he belonged in the Southeastern Conference. They took notice.

“What I truly admire about Derrick is that no matter what, he always stays positive and joyful,” sophomore heptathlete Kendell Williams said. “His worth ethic and attitude is contagious and it was a major reason why he’s so successful.”

Behind the support of his peers and hard work, White saw a complete turnaround in the outdoor season. White notched six top-10 finishes in various events but the biggest accomplishment of all came at the Yellow Jacket Invitational in Atlanta. With a time of 47.13 seconds, he took first place in the 400m dash and 21.12 in the 200m dash, White received SEC Freshman of the Week honors; he had accomplished his ultimate goal.

“I immediately thought back to Mrs. Singh and what she told me,” said White. “I made an Instagram post shouting her out for the motivation, it was kind of childish but I saw it as a form of validation” he said with a laugh.

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Though he was achieving success on the track, he still felt that something was missing: campus involvement. While in high school, White served as the student body president but failed to hold leadership positions during his freshman year.

“I really had to teach myself time management once I got to college,” said White. “Athletics at UGA are much more demanding than high school. It was tough but I committed myself, you make time for what you want to.”

White made the decision to pursue leadership positions on campus to make himself more well-rounded.

A marketing major, White found positions on the executive board of the Black Male Leadership Society and Professional Sports Entertainment Association. His role includes scheduling events and promoting the organizations to campus.

“It’s my responsibility,” said White. “Young black men like my little brothers need a role model that doesn’t necessarily feel like they belong to one group, its about being multifaceted.”

His work ethic on and off the track did not go unnoticed around campus. He was recently named Outstanding Student Athlete by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. A few weeks later, he had the opportunity to speak at the first annual Black Male Leadership Society awards banquet.

“I think what sets Derrick apart is his want to expand his boundaries past athletics. He’s an inspiration to athletes across campus and I think more will follow his example” added Williams.

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Moving forward, White has big plans for BMLS, PESA and his rising career as a sprinter. Despite it all, his main objective will remain the same: lead by example and inspire others around him on and off of the track to be the best that they can be.

Whether it’s on the track blocks or in a meeting, White has shown the ability to excel anywhere, and he will continue to shine wherever life may take him.

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