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Against All Odds: Trayvon Bromell on life after worlds, police brutality, overcoming trauma

World Athletics Championships Oregon22 - Day Two

Oregon , United States - 16 July 2022; Trayvon Bromell of USA celebrates winning bronze in the men’s 100m final during day two of the World Athletics Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, USA. (Photo By Sam Barnes/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Sportsfile via Getty Images

Trayvon Bromell had everything one could imagine and more stacked against him. From being a target of drive-by shootings, growing up with gang violence, eviction notices and surgeries on what should have been career-ending injuries, Bromell shouldn’t be standing here today as one of the world’s fastest men.

Most would crumble under the weight of the burdens the 27-year-old carried, yet the St. Petersburg, Florida native still managed to pick up his second, and what he calls his more meaningful, world championships 100m bronze medal in July as part of a U.S. sweep. Bromell discusses his faith, experiences with police brutality, wrestling with trauma and paranoia from his past, and much more below.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

OlympicTalk: If I were to pull out your medical history, you’re not supposed to be here… just list all of the major injuries you’ve had for me.

Trayvon Bromell: I had surgery on my left and right knees from breaking those. I injured my left hip. I had a right forearm fracture as well. So left knee left hip. Right knee, right forearm. Then the Achilles bone spur I had back in 2016 lingered on through 2017 with getting the bone spur removed and then getting the tendon cleaned up itself. So two surgeries on that.

What have you learned from the hard times?

Bromell: Growing up on the south side of St. Petersburg, Florida, everything is hard times. Personally, I’ve dealt with everything that anyone that comes from the south side or a bad neighborhood could possibly go through. [But] when the injuries came, it was something I really had never experienced before. With the three injuries back-to-back that I had with the knees and my hip, it seemed like I was able to recover pretty quickly even without the financial resources that were necessary for rehab. A lot of people don’t know that we actually didn’t have the money to do rehab. Once the surgery was done, we took a loan from the bank and had to make these payments, but there was no physical therapy. It was literally just my mama and me. Having her as the backbone to carry me through that made it easier to deal with.

When it came to the situation with the bone spurs, it felt like it came out of nowhere. This was something that was way out of my reach of knowledge. I didn’t know how to deal with it, so that’s why it was so hard for me to bounce back.

Ballpark how much would you say you spent on treatment?

Bromell: Man, easily six figures. From 2016 through 2019, I was flying to different countries and seeing different doctors. I was even purchasing different rehab equipment to “help”. Then obviously making moves to be able to come and switch groups and see different therapists-- all that stuff costs money.

I remember LeBron James once said he spends over a million dollars on therapy a year. So if arguably the greatest basketball player of all time is saying that he’s spending roughly that amount or even more, I couldn’t be too upset about spending the money on something that I want to continuously do.

A lot of people know about the physical injuries you faced, but what are some of the mental things you’ve walked through? You’ve referenced going through “dark alleyways” in the past. Do you feel like you’re out, and can you talk about what some of those things were?

Bromell: No. You’re never out of it. You just learn to live with it. Being from the south side brings you a lot of paranoia. Growing up, you’re constantly worrying about drive-by shootings. You’re worried about maybe somebody envying you and trying to come after you. You’re dealing with drugs and police brutality.

When I was a child, I was around a lot of gang violence. To this day, I’m constantly looking over my shoulder. If someone’s in the car with me when I’m driving they always ask, “Tray, why do you look around so much?” It’s honestly just the paranoia. I’m always thinking that there’s somebody who wants to try and take a life. Those types of things tend to live with you. It doesn’t just go away. There’s no amount of therapy or anything you can do. From a psychological standpoint, all it takes is one trigger to make everything come back.

I live a very structured and routine-oriented lifestyle, and that’s what helps me deal with my past.

RELATED: Bromell emerges from destruction a new sprinter, new man

There really are a lot of people that don’t come from that world. Can you elaborate on some of those experiences that you’ve walked through with police brutality and gang violence?

Bromell: There are things that I’ve personally been through that will make me not trust the police for the rest of my life. I’m not saying I’ll never change, but that’s just personally how I feel because I’ve never felt like I’ve been protected by the police, and that stays with me forever.

I went through an incident when I was 16 years old with my cousin. We had just come back from playing basketball at the court with the guys, and as soon as we got home, my cousin entered my room, closed the door, looked at me and said, “They’re coming.” I looked at him and was like, “What do you mean?” Next thing you know, you have five officers running into my tiny, not even 10x10 bedroom, waving guns and throwing us on the ground. My mama came out of her room and was like, “What is happening?”

It wasn’t just five officers. There were even more in the house. My granddaddy lived with us, so they were waving guns at him, too. My cousin and I were on the ground, and my mama looked scared.

We went through all of that just for them [the officers] to say that they were looking for guys that “fit our description.” Two Black kids, one with short hair and one with dreads.

You’re on the south side of St. Petersburg, Florida, where most Black men have dreads or short haircuts. My next-door neighbors fit that description. Anybody on the south side fits that description, but it didn’t make sense that they targeted us.

They were wrong, and the officers weren’t punished for making that mistake. The guns were literally pointed at us. Any slight movement could have been the end, and people don’t realize how serious that is, and these are the people we’re supposed to feel confident in calling?

I might as well handle the situation myself instead of calling the police because they might not even believe me. At the end of the day, I look just like the next person that you may try to accuse.

I’ve dealt with stuff living in Texas during college. I remember when I first signed with my agent and New Balance, I was a 20-year-old kid with a Porsche Panamera with tinted windows because, like I said, I don’t really like people knowing when it’s me in the car. I was driving to Dallas one day, and I saw a police officer, so I rolled down my windows as I was passing the car so that he could see I wasn’t trying to hide anything. He pulled me over, asked me why I rolled down my windows, and I shared that story with him. I told him I only have my mama. I didn’t have a father growing up. It’s just me and my mama, and I refuse to let her wake up and see that her son has been gunned down. So I do whatever I need to do from a protective standpoint to make sure nothing happens to me because I’ve got to make it back home.

I need people to understand how serious that is.

In terms of gang violence, yes, I grew up rolling with gang members. One of my little brothers is in prison for murder. I’m just telling it like it is. There’s no shame or anything in it. I love him to death. People make mistakes, but a lot of the actions that we make are a product of the environment we come from. My brother went into prison when he was 14 -- I was 16 at the time -- and running with these guys in the neighborhood. It’s all about fast money and doing what you have to do to survive. Everybody talks about this “dog-eat-dog” and “lion mentality,” but you don’t know what it’s like until it’s time to be a lion. Everybody wants to act gangster until you’re actually in it. I could drop most of these guys that are out here in society into my neighborhood, and they won’t make it a week.

I’ve been shot at multiple times. I have been chased. I’ve had drive-bys sent on me and have had people try to break into the house -- that stuff is numbing. It doesn’t even scare me anymore. When people pull out a gun, I’m like nine times out of ten you’re not even going to shoot it. These are the type of things that you live with because it torments you so much. Growing up in that type of environment, you feel like you have to live like that.

So when my college coach came to recruit me for track, I told him straight up it’s either you get me into college or I know where I’m going to end up. That’s how powerful that type of lifestyle is. You already know what’s going to happen. You are either going to be selling drugs or working at Pizza Hut. I damn sure knew I wasn’t going to be working at Pizza Hut. I already knew what life was for me. I’ve got gang members all throughout my family. It was easy for me as a young male to say these are the cards I’ve been dealt, but luckily I serve a God that brought me out of that and now I can be a voice and tell people that you don’t have to fit that narrative.

Even in life now, you try to live blameless and righteous, but small instances can trigger you and bring you back to that time and place. Those things will happen for the rest of my life because I lived for so long in that type of world. It’s hard because that anger attaches itself to you, and sometimes it’s hard to get off. I distance myself from a lot of things. I stay in my house and try to move past it. Those are the dark things that I deal with.

That’s heavy. Thank you for sharing that. On top of dealing with injuries and trauma, you’ve also had to deal with a lot of negativity from social media. Can you talk about that?

Bromell: When you’re an athlete, especially in an individual sport, you’re always going to have someone betting against you -- sometimes for no reason at all. Whether I perform or underperform, people always have negative things to say.

I’m a young Black kid whose belief is in a higher power, and not everyone agrees with my lifestyle. People always say I need to stop talking about God and focus on running, but they don’t know what I’ve been through and the reason why I gave myself to Christ and believe in God. My faith is the only reason why I’m even still standing at this point.

Nobody cared about me when I was living on the south side, getting eviction notices. Everybody is so quick to say something rather than understanding that I’m here for a sole purpose and that’s not to do what the world wants me to do. I’m here for a higher will.

Those are the things that you have to juggle. When I have a big meet coming up, I stay off of social media. I started doing that last year, and I have been able to see the benefit of it.

Looking back, the only events that I didn’t stay off of social media this past season was the U.S. and World Championships. I wanted to be part of the hype, but now I know what works and what doesn’t work for me. Words are powerful. The tongue is powerful, so I try to not hear so many voices.

Was there ever a moment that the negativity got to you and thought about hanging it all up even more recently?

Bromell: I wouldn’t say I felt like hanging it up, but the Tokyo Olympics made me reevaluate everything. My agent and I talked a lot because we really didn’t know what went wrong. It could have been me getting too psyched up into social media. Going into Tokyo, it was already in my head that I already won without doing the work, and complacency is one of the quickest ways to fail. [Tokyo] really made me sit down and try to figure out what I need to do to make sure this never happens again.

Editor’s note: Bromell went into the Tokyo Olympics as the fastest man in the world in 2021. He was eliminated in the 100m semifinals.

World Athletics Championships Oregon22 - Day Two

EUGENE, OREGON - JULY 16: Trayvon Bromell of Team United States prepares to compete in the Men’s 100m Final on day two of the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 at Hayward Field on July 16, 2022 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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What would reaching the pinnacle of your career look like for you?

Bromell: Being the greatest of all time in this event. I’m a big advocate of making people see me, but when I say that I don’t mean it in a literal sense. But for all of those people who know what it feels like to not be heard or to not be seen ... I want to prove that it’s possible.

Growing up in a single-parent home, I felt like nobody heard me. My mother did not make a lot of money, and we were always trying to figure out a way to pay for things. I feel like nobody heard my cries for help, nobody was there for me, and I grew up with so much aggression because I felt like nobody cared and the world was against me.

Everybody didn’t see me and hear me back then, but now you have to. I want to be the best to ever do it. The odds have always been stacked against me in my life, and that’s why I get emotional after running crazy times. It’s never been about the race or the medals for me.

Give me one word to describe yourself during each of these major milestones. 2015 World Championships (100m bronze medal at age 19).

Bromell: Interesting. When I walked into the stadium during the first round of the 100m I was mesmerized. I couldn’t believe I was there. I felt like I was a kid going to Disney for the first time. I was looking around so much that the official had to tell me to get into my blocks.

15th IAAF World Athletics Championships Beijing 2015 - Day One

BEIJING, CHINA - AUGUST 22: Trayvon Bromell of the United States crosses the finish line in the Men’s 100 metres heats during day one of the 15th IAAF World Athletics Championships Beijing 2015 at Beijing National Stadium on August 22, 2015 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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2016 Rio Olympics (last place in the 100m final).

Bromell: Painful. I got injured earlier in the season and was able to recover before U.S. trials where I finished second and felt very confident only to get injured again in relay camp, so when I went to Rio it was painful because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to put up my best fight.

Athletics - Olympics: Day 14

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 19: Trayvon Bromell of the United States holds his ankle after falling at the finish of the Men’s 4 x 100m Relay Final on Day 14 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 19, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The United States was disqualified for exchanging outside the zone in the first handoff. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

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Bromell: Confusing. It was probably my best career season. All the way through the U.S. trials I was undefeated, so that made me feel like my name could be in the conversation with the greatest, and then Tokyo happened.

2020 Summer Olympics - Day 10

Track & Field: Summer Olympics: USA Trayvon Bromell after Men’s 100M Semifinal 2 at Olympic Stadium. Tokyo, Japan 8/1/2021 CREDIT: Erick W. Rasco (Photo by Erick W. Rasco/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images) (Set Number: X163730 TK1`)

Sports Illustrated via Getty Ima

2022 World Championships.

Bromell: I’m going to have to use two words for this one -- confusing and determined. Going into the finals I was very confused and low-key pissed off that I had lane eight. Looking at the times that were run getting into the final, I thought I should have at least been one more lane over. When I got out of the blocks, if you look back at the video, I was behind so I had a decision to make in the midst of the race probably around 40 meters in.

I remember thinking you can give all this up and have everyone say “Tray, you choked again,” or you can go get on this podium. I chose getting on the podium. That really showed me how important it is to believe in yourself. Once I decided I was getting on the podium, my last 50 meters were insane -- the fastest that it’s ever been. I proved a lot to myself in that particular race.

World Athletics Championships Oregon22 - Day Two

EUGENE, OREGON - JULY 16: Trayvon Bromell of Team United States prepares for the start of the Men’s 100m Semi-Final on day two of the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 at Hayward Field on July 16, 2022 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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How would you describe yourself in this season of life?

Bromell: Wise. I love studying and learning about new things. You can sit down and talk to me about anything, and if I don’t know it, I promise you the next time we have a conversation about it I would have read two books and watched some TED talks on the subject. I want to be the person that when I walk into the room you can’t tell me no. I already have two degrees -- a bachelor’s in anatomy and kinesiology and a master’s in business -- and I plan on getting three more degrees when my career is over.

People always ask me why I want to keep spending money on school, and my answer is because my skin will always be Black. I want to tell people I don’t care what you say or how I look, I’m certified. If I don’t know, I will know and if you beat me in anything I’m going to get back to work because you won’t outwork me.

Speaking of wisdom, you’ve come so far in life on and off the track. If you could go back in time and give your younger self -- the little kid from south side St. Pete -- advice, what would it be?

Bromell: Don’t be so angry. I was kicked out of five schools when I was in elementary. I was in in-school suspension more than I was actually in class. I probably had the most referrals in Pinellas County history because I was full of anger. A lot of the pain came from me not having my dad. My dad left my mama when I was young, and I never knew why. That’s why when I see people that are fathers, I always tell them to make sure they are involved in their children’s lives because I know how it tore me apart. I remember my dad reached out to me when I was 16. He thought I was 21 at the time, and I didn’t understand how he didn’t even know my age.

That anger is so deep. I would tell my younger self to stay the course. Don’t be so mad. It gets better.

Let’s talk about those 2022 World Championships. Tell me about your experience and how special that 1-2-3 U.S. finish was given your relationship with Marvin Bracy-Williams and Fred Kerley?

Bromell: I went into this race a little differently than I went into Tokyo. I went in with a clear mind, and I didn’t go in expecting it to be handed to me. So, every round, I wanted to know that I got out ahead and had people chasing me.

Marvin, Fred and I already had it in play that we wanted to sweep the 100m. It’s crazy because there’s actually a picture of the three of us coming off the podium after getting our medals at the U.S. Championships, and we were literally talking about sweeping again at worlds. We knew we were going to put on a show. We just didn’t know the order in which we would finish.


TOPSHOT - USA’s Fred Kerley (C) crosses the finish line ahead of compatriots Trayvon Bromell (L) and Marvin Bracy to win the men’s 100m final during the World Athletics Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon on July 16, 2022. (Photo by Jewel SAMAD / AFP) (Photo by JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

RELATED: Fred Kerley leads U.S. medals sweep of men’s 100m at track worlds

Can you describe Marvin and Fred?

Bromell: I have a story that sums up our relationship perfectly. After the 100m race at worlds, we were all hanging out at about 2 or 3 in the morning in Oregon and talking, truly still in shock that we really just swept the 100m. Fred goes: “Yeah but I got the gold.”

I say, “Hey, I was in lane 8, so I really didn’t see you. If I was closer it would have been a different story.”

Marvin goes, “Well, shoot, we can race right now.”

At almost 3 o’clock in the morning, we were literally standing in the middle of the street barefoot and about to race from a gas station to our hotel which was about 100 meters away. Then I thought about it and stopped the situation because Fred still had to run the 200m the next day. But that’s what our relationship is like. It’s competition, but at the end of the day, it’s all love. We want to all see each other succeed, but we also all want to be No. 1, so that keeps each and every one of us on our toes. That’s the beauty of being able to have true peers in your event.

Iron sharpens iron. I love that. At one point in your career, you couldn’t even hop on one foot post-injury, and now you’ve picked up your second world bronze medal. What does that accomplishment mean to you?

Bromell: This medal came seven years after my first one, and I’ve been through so much over that time span with injuries, making group changes, etc. People thought I would probably never get back on the podium. For me, it was a sense of relief. I wanted gold, but at the very least I wanted to get a medal. I didn’t go through all that I went through -- spending so much money going to Germany, Ireland and the UK seeing doctors -- for nothing. I broke down and started crying when I got my medal, not because of the medal itself, but because of all that came with it.

I do not train to get third place. I do not train to get second. I train to get gold, but this bronze, in particular, has a lot of blood on it. Scars after scars. Fall after fall. Doubt after doubt. It’s all on this world bronze medal, and that’s always going to stay with me. I look at it every day, and it means a lot because of what I went through to get it.

My 2015 World bronze medal doesn’t even compare to this one. I have not even seen that medal until recently. I got the medal in 2015. I put it in storage, and I didn’t see it until about two months ago. Material things don’t matter to me. Even my 2016 Indoor World gold medal, I put that away and didn’t see it until recently. The real gold medal is what I’m able to achieve on the track, and the lives I’m able to change because of my story. Those are the things that are more meaningful to me.

Paris 2024 is coming up. What would having the opportunity to represent the U.S. at a third Olympics mean to you?

Bromell: It’ll mean a lot because it’s going to be in Paris, and hopefully I’ll find a wife in the greatest city of love. I want a family and kids, so hopefully I can go to Paris, win gold and find a wife all in the same night.

You had to learn the hard way that your identity is not only in your athleticism. Who is Trayvon Bromell off the track? What are you passionate about, and what is your purpose?

Bromell: I die to myself every day. I’m always trying to do away with the old and bring in the new. I develop, I learn, and I try to be better than I was yesterday. Outside of track and field, I love photography, music, gaming, streaming and riding dirt bikes, I’m a jack of all trades.

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What does the phrase voice for the voiceless mean to you?

Bromell: I have a large platform on social media, and I’m on big stages with track and field, so I want to be a voice for the people who want to say something that can’t. My brother, who is in jail for murder, can’t come to you guys and tell you how he’s changed, how he now walks in faith, and about the things he’s excited about and learned in books. He wants to change lives and ask for the world’s forgiveness and show people that he’s a better man, but he doesn’t have that platform, so who has to do it? Me, the person that has a voice.

There are people in the community that may be hurting for finances for school or for food. The door gets shut on them when they try to go to city hall and make changes. They don’t have that opportunity, but I do. I’m not afraid to speak about anything. I don’t do it for my own benefit. I’m a voice for the voiceless because God has blessed me with a new life, and now it’s my turn to do that for the next person because if they can’t say it, who will?

Tell me about your faith...

Bromell: I didn’t grow up believing in God or in anything really, but in 2013 God revealed himself to me at the Great Southwest Classic. I had entered that competition just running 10.3 at state championships that year, and one of the coaches just looked at me and said, “You’re going to run nine seconds today. Pray about it, and you’re going to do it.”

I just looked at him and laughed because I know what a huge jump it is to go from 10.3 to 9 seconds. Not to mention, we had a 30-minute sandstorm delay that afternoon, and although I didn’t believe in much, I had the odd superstition that it needed to be sunny and dry for me to run well. But he told me to pray about it, so I did. I said, “God if you want me to run 9 seconds today, let the sun come out for my race.” I prayed, and I promise you the clouds opened up. As soon as the gun went off, I was gone. I never felt my body run the way it did -- knees up, arms pumping --and I ran 9.99, breaking the 10-second barrier. All it took was faith the size of a mustard seed, and it was life-changing for me because until then I didn’t have faith in anything, not even people, especially since my own father wasn’t there for me.

My walk of faith is totally different than anyone else. I take the time to read the Bible and study the scriptures in Hebrew and in Greek.

Tell me about your relationship with your mom and how she’s supported your career, your life, everything.

Bromell: My mama, she’s a soldier. She showed me how to stay consistent through a lot of hard times in prayer and helped me understand that life is going to be what it’s going to be, but you’ve got to keep pushing. She worked from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. in a hospital as an RN and would come home and sleep for only three hours and then take me to the park. She didn’t care that she was tired. We would play tennis, basketball and football. She was my mother and father.

I would not be who I am if my mama didn’t put in the time she did. I probably would have been dead or in jail. There were times when one of the homies wanted me to “hang out,” and it would really be to go and break into someone’s house, but my mama wouldn’t let me hang out because she was taking me to the park. She never has to ask for anything from me. She hasn’t worked since 2015.

How much of an impact did your late coach Garlynn Boyd have on your life?

Bromell: She was like my second mama. She was caring, nurturing and crazy as all get out. She was the person screaming at the top of her lungs at all the track meets. Everyone in the state of Florida knew who coach G was. Anyone who saw that wheelchair or heard that voice knew it was coach G. If we were in your city and at your track, you would hear my coach. Her love and care for the athletes were unmatched. Whether you were in our track club or not, she loved you like you were her own child. It’s hard to find somebody like that these days. I tried to quit track when I was younger like three times, and she never let me stop.

I’m so sorry for your loss.

Bromell: Thank you.

Let’s get into the fun stuff. Are you ready for some rapid-fire questions?

Bromell: Bet.

Race day hype song?

Bromell: Anything Rod Wave. Whenever I’m going into a race da,y as soon as I get off the bus I have to play his song “Yessir”.

Go-to post-workout meal?

Bromell: Anything with chicken, rice and a veggie. Lately, I’ve been going to this healthy food place called Kairos. Everything is natural, so that’s usually what I get from there.

Cheat meal?

Bromell: Even on cheat days I eat pretty healthy. I make air-fried chicken wings, and I don’t use any condiments or a lot of seasoning and all that stuff. That or cheese pizza, but I get my pizza from True Food Kitchen, so it’s really healthy.

Finish this sentence: I’m not ready for a race without ...

Bromell: Without God. That’s all I need.

You’re a talented photographer, I’ve seen your work on your photography Instagram Shots by TB. Who has been your favorite athlete to shoot, and which athlete are you dying to shoot?

Bromell: It’s always fun to shoot Sydney McLaughlin. Obviously she’s also part of the brand New Balance, so having that connection makes it a lot better. My boy [British sprinter] Adam Gemili was a really fun shoot, very relaxed very smooth and very engaging. I would love to shoot Vashti Cunningham. We talk about fashion a lot. Outside of track and field, I would love to shoot with Iman Shumpert. I feel like he’s down to get creative. I would also say Lupita Nyong’o. it’s hard to find people that have that nice, smooth, dark melanin, so I would love to shoot her.

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Did you have AIM back in the day? What was your embarrassing screen name or embarrassing email address?

Bromell: Oh my gosh, you’re taking it back. I don’t remember what my screen name was, but back in the day when I had MySpace all my profile pictures used to be of Lil’ Jon & the East Side Boyz. When I was younger and would be trying to flirt with girls they would just see them.

Lil' Jon and The East Side Boyz, Ryan Cabrera and Adam Brody Visit MTV's "TRL" - November 11, 2004

Lil’ Jon and The East Side Boyz during Lil’ Jon and The East Side Boyz, Ryan Cabrera and Adam Brody Visit MTV’s “TRL” - November 11, 2004 at MTV Studios in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/FilmMagic)