May 20, 2014
By Christopher Walsh
Three in the morning used to come very early for Yanique Malcolm.
That's when she had to wake up every day and drag herself out of bed to go to school.
Yes. 3 a.m. Well before sunrise.
It got worse when she started running track competitively at the age of 18, and for quite a while it had kept her out of the sport. But that was just part of everyday life where she grew up, in a rural part of the Kingston region of Jamaica. The school was so far away that the kids had to take a bus to catch another bus ... and that's assuming everything went according to plan.
"It was about four hours away," said the University of Alabama senior. "If I missed the bus at 3 a.m., I had to wait until, like, 5 to get another bus. So I had to get up at 3 in order to get to school on time. After practice in the evening, practice would finish up at about 6, so I would get home past 11. So getting up to go to school the next day it was hard for me to get up, catch the bus at 3 again, so that's why I didn't join track."
The Crimson Tide is grateful that she eventually did, as Malcolm won the 800-meter title at the SEC Outdoor Championships in Lexington, Ky., on May 18. Her winning time of 2:03.28 is a personal best and ranks second in school history.
"I was so happy because, being that it's my senior year, I really came out with the mindset to win this championship," Malcolm said after becoming the first Alabama woman to win a conference title in the 800 meters since Donna Cargill won in 1996.
Winning the 800 meters at SECs was truly the culmination of a long journey in a short time for Malcolm, who has had to endure quite a lot just to find out how good she might be as a runner. Part of that included essentially living with the parent of another track athlete, Enbrea Baley, for a while to cut down the long bus rides. She also transferred to another high school, St. Jago in Spanish Town, St. Catherine, which has graduated numerous Olympic athletes, and, founded in 1744, is one of the oldest continuously operated schools in the western hemisphere.
And all that led her to New Jersey of all places, which brought on a whole new set of challenges.
Before track and cross country really entered her life, Malcolm did run some. She had been asked to join her high school track team, but it took what they call in Jamaica a "sports day" to set things in motion when she beat some of her future teammates.
Although Malcolm wasn't winning championships, her performances were good enough to draw attention. Coaches saw natural talent and enormous potential, but she was also raw. With no tests scores like the SAT, either, her academic status could only be described the same way.
So, through her coach, Malcolm got an opportunity to attend and compete for Essex County, a junior college in Newark, N.J.
On the plus side she was just a quick train ride away from the heart of New York City, which was fun to explore on the weekends. However, the school's track program didn't have an actual track. That wasn't an issue for cross country, as runners could simply take to the roads and go through the nearby parks. For track and field, though, they had to set up cones and practice in the gym, which was tough on their shins and joints, plus travel to every single meet.
"I knew that it snowed there, but I didn't know that it got that cold," Malcolm said. "When I saw the snow, at first I liked it. But then it started to melt, and it got super cold. I didn't like that."
Nevertheless, Malcolm was the 800-meter runner-up at the 2012 NJCAA Outdoor Championships (in 2:11.46), and named her team's most valuable performer for both the indoor and outdoor seasons. Alabama, with a new coaching staff, took note and scheduled a late visit.
"I felt like, `This is home for me'," said Malcolm, who was immediately sold on the spacious campus.
It didn't hurt that fellow Jamaicans Candicea Bernard (throws) and Remona Burchell (sprints) were visiting at the same time, while the men's track and field team already had two people from her home country including Kamal Fuller (jumps).
Back at their respective junior colleges the three women, who previously didn't know each other, started texting one another about the Capstone and pretty soon it was apparent that they were all thinking the same thing. One committed to the Crimson Tide, then another, and before long the trio was signed up and making plans.
"It just worked out that way," said Bernard, who transferred from Central Arizona College. She placed seventh in the shot put at the recent SEC Indoor Championships, while Burchell, who came in from Butler Country Community College in Kansas, won the NCAA title in the 60 meters.
Meanwhile, Malcolm, who is already nearing the end of her eligibility, appears to be hitting her stride at the right time. Along with her victory at the SEC Outdoor Championships, she placed second at the 2014 SEC Indoor Championships while setting the schools indoor record in the 800 (2:03.97).
"I wasn't really expecting it," said Malcolm, who finished the indoor season as a second-team All-American. "I was expecting to run faster, but I didn't think I'd go that fast. Coming back and having a full year with (sprints/hurdles coach Matt) Kane, I've been training hard. He's been instructing me to do certain things on the track, and I've been doing it so far, and I've running faster already, and the season isn't over yet.
"I'm expecting to do really good."
Malcolm, who is 22 and only four years away from when she fully embraced her sport, was referring to the final meets of her collegiate career, which make up track and field's outdoor postseason. Although she'll stay on campus next year and continue to train while completing her degree, the final stretch started with the SEC Championships last week. It continues with NCAA regionals in Jacksonville, Fla., on May 29-31 and then, hopefully, the NCAA Championships on June 11-14 in Oregon.
"As long as I remain focused, go there and do what I'm supposed to do by my coach, I'll be good and have good times," she said. "I think I have more in store."