No, Will Allen can’t race across time like his surname-sharing comic-book counterpart, Barry Allen (The Flash). But he’s pretty darn fast.
Allen’s fast enough to have set the KHSAA record for the boys’ 400-meter dash at 47.09 seconds as a junior. He’s fast enough to own a personal record of 46.38 in that same event, a mark that earned him a second-place finish at last year’s New Balance Outdoor Nationals. The Paul Laurence Dunbar senior is fast enough to have already won a gold medal; he did that as part of Team USA’s winning 4x400-meter relay team in last summer’s Pan American Junior games. His 45.6 split was the fastest of any runner in that race.
He’s also sharp enough to slow down and recognize the opportunities his speed has granted him. Allen will attend the University of Alabama on a track scholarship. He would like to study speech pathology.
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“I really like working with people and helping them get better,” said Allen, who also considered doing physical therapy. “ ... I’d love to work with kids with speech problems. Cause I know that can be hard on people when they go to job interviews and stuff. They feel a little nervous.”
Just two years ago, an ocean stood between those dreams — of setting records, of attending college, of helping people in need — and a teenager eager to achieve them.
A year off the track
Before Allen’s sophomore year his mother, Deyerif Thompson, moved to Planes Colon, a town in her native Honduras. He and his four siblings — Humberto Rodriguez, Diana Molina, Robert Molina and Abby Molina — went with her.
Because Allen was away from organized track, his training suffered. He did basic exercises — push-ups, core work, etc. — and played soccer to stay in shape, but Planes Colon was not an ideal setting for a track athlete.
“It’s just dirt roads. It’s like country,” Allen said. “But its nice. I’ve been to Pikeville. I’ve been to Harrison County, Harrodsburg, places like that. I feel like (Planes Colon) is a little worse. We had a lot of animals around. It’s just crazy the stuff you see down there.”
The wildest thing Allen saw?
“This lady with a pet monkey,” he said. “That was interesting. I was like ‘Wow! You can do that? I want one of those.’”
Jean Balan, a former University of Kentucky runner who now coaches at Dunbar, recognized Allen’s potential when he first came out for track as a sixth-grader at Crawford Middle School. By the time he reached eighth grade, Allen set the middle school record for the 400-meter dash.
Balan and Allen stayed in touch while Allen was in Honduras, and eventually Balan was granted guardianship of Allen and moved him back to the U.S. That was an answer to prayers Allen thought might go unrequited.
“When I was in Honduras I didn’t think I was gonna be able to come back, to be honest,” Allen said. “I was just praying to God to just get me through every day and just hopefully that I’ll get back and end up being where I’m supposed to be in life.”
Things people take for granted
While Allen was granted a second chance at jumpstarting his dreams, it wasn’t without hurdles. Catching up after missing one’s sophomore year of high school, it turns out, is as much of a challenge as shaving a second off one’s personal record.
In Honduras, Allen said, education is a constant expense. Elementary school, middle school, high school — it all costs money that many people in the country can’t afford. His brief stay in the country gave Allen a look into how many basic staples of American life that its citizens gloss over.
“The education system, the cops, security, food,” Allen said. “Here in the U.S., there’s so many things that people don’t realize they take for granted that people don’t have in Honduras. That really opened my eyes.”
He learned some lessons about prioritization and sacrificed time with friends so he could catch up to his grade level and raise his GPA to above a 3.0.
Balan, who requested not to be interviewed, became a father figure to Allen who helped him with his transformation on and off the track.
“Growing up, my mom was a single parent so she was my mom and dad,” Allen said. “When I came back and he took me in, that played a big role cause he taught me some things that my mom couldn’t teach me. He’s shaped me for the better.”
Allen set meet records for the 100 meters, 200 meters and 400 meters in Saturday’s Tyson Gay Invitational. He hopes to break his own state record at the KHSAA championships in May. Soon after that he’ll compete in the New Balance Outdoor Nationals. It’s not crazy to think, like Gay, Allen could represent the United States in the Olympics one day.
Or maybe he’ll leave a mark elsewhere. Allen grew up speaking Spanish before learning English as a second language. He went from student to teacher while he was in Honduras.
“I wouldn’t mind teaching kids. I helped some friends learn English,” Allen said. “It’s fun to see how interested they were in wanting to learn another language.”
He might not be as fast as Barry Allen, but this speedster’s heart is equally good.