Bombs bursted in the distance like fireworks as Yudu Gray's parents told him that they had to leave. Just six years old, Yudu wanted to bring his new crucifix with him, but his parents said it would be too heavy and that they would return in a few days to retrieve it. They caught a secret plane to Ghana, and then another to London before ending up in the United States. Yudu never returned to his childhood home.
His home country of Liberia was ravished by civil war throughout the 1990's. His father was a member of the government and a likely target for the uprising. That home with all of his childhood belongings has since been burned to the ground, but his family found a new place to live in a suburb of Washington D.C.
Yudu began racing his cousin and other children in local events just before he moved away. When he settled down in his new home, he continued to race other children right up through high school and beyond. He was the slowest runner on his team his freshman and sophomore years at Watkins Mill High School, but he worked hard to be one of the fastest runners on the team. His senior year was cut short by an injury, which he later said could have been prevented if only he had stretched like his coach told him to.
He went on to compete in college. He never stayed at one college for more than a year. He bounced around trying to find the best fit for himself. All the while, he never stopped running track and ran fast enough to catch the attention of the Liberian national team prior to the 2004 Olympic Games.
He was recruited to compete for Liberia in 2004, but the country ultimately decided not to send a team.
As the 2008 Olympic Games came into focus, the Liberian team once again recruited him and he was there to answer the call. He set out a plan and a budget to accomplish his dream of running in the Olympics.
Yudu is less than three weeks away from the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games. He is backing down his training and feeling better than ever. He is confident and fully prepared to take on the best sprinters in the world in the 200-meter dash and the 400-meter dash on the world's biggest stage.
In this interview, he speaks on his development from a young child being forced out of his home at an early age, to a slow, scrawny sprinter in high school. He discusses how he developed into a strong high school sprinter and how he uses his old high school coach as a template to mentor his athletes as he coaches at Watkins Mill High School. He discusses what it was like to visit a Liberian refugee camp in Ghana and what it means to be an Olympian who will represent his war-torn homeland in the 2008 Olympics.
After the 2008 Olympics, Yudu will continue to compete in track and field at the elite level. He hopes to use his status as a national track star to join together with other Liberian professional athletes in the United States to give back to the rebuilding nation.
Please visit http://yudugray.com/ for more information.
Yudu traveled to Beijing, but was unable to compete due to injury. On August 18, ten days after the Olympic Opening Ceremonies, Yudu sent Kevin Milsted this email.
Hey Kevin I just wanted to give you an update. I am just coming back from China! I had to pull out of competition due to an injury to my knee a few weeks ago. I updated it on the site, but have not had the chance to tell everyone. It was a tough decision, but for the good of my health and career I feel it was the right one. It seems like I always get so close only to get derailed, but as I told you when we met everything happens for a reason, and nothing happens by accident!
I have been blessed with the opportunity to run at the professional level by hooking up with a sponsor Pacers Running Co. out of N. Va! so as always there is a silver lining on the clouds. I look forward to focusing on running this upcoming indoor and outdoor season, and will keep my schedule and results on the www.yudugray.com site. Of course I will also keep you informed via email.
If I learned anything this year it is that when you are going to do something, put your all into it! That is why I am going to run full time from now on. I realize that taking a year to train was a step in the right direction, but I still had multiple things on my plate. I am now focusing just on running (especially after watching that 100m final). I fully believe I can compete at the professional level, and will do everything I can to become a force in track and field. Thanks for all your support, I will be sure to keep you posted.