Jacory Patterson goes through a similar routine before every race. The humble, superstar track athlete at Virginia Tech listens to music in the team area. He provides words of encouragement and wishes his teammates good luck.
Before the sophomore sprinter settles into the blocks to compete in his event, Patterson whispers a prayer and resorts to his happy place by talking to his grandmother before exhaling a deep breath to let go of everything.
The starting gun sounds to unleash the runners, and more times than not, Patterson explodes past the pack to another resounding victory. It’s here where the Columbia, South Carolina native fulfills a promise he made several years ago. Patterson’s grandmother passed away after a battle with breast cancer in 2014, but he’s still living every day in her memory.
“Since then, I made a promise to myself and to [my grandmother] that everything I do would be for her and my mom,” Patterson said. “My mom especially because she’s a single parent. It was just me and her in the house. She made a lot of sacrifices for me, and I’ll never forget that. I just want to repay her for everything she’s done for me.”
It’s the influence from Patterson’s mother, Charlene Bolton, and grandmother, Darlene Bolton, that provides the fuel to his high-powered engine. The sprinter is candid when talking about how the faith he learned from both of them has played an integral part in his life on and off the track.
“My grandma was a really spiritual person,” Patterson said. “She loved God to the fullest and she actually taught me a lot about Him. Now that I have the faith and I have her, that’s her bringing us together. Teaching me that even when she’s not here because I know she’s always in my heart. My mom is the same way.”
Journey to Blacksburg
Growing up in Columbia, Patterson admitted that it could be a rough place. Sometimes he felt like people could be trapped there, but he knew track was his answer to break the mold and “show people that there’s a way out of Columbia.”
Patterson was a standout athlete at Dreher High School where he broke school records in all the sprints along with the long jump and triple jump. College coaches came calling, and Virginia Tech offered something that he didn’t feel anywhere else.
“When I took this visit, it was different than any other visit,” Patterson said. “I always go with my gut. My gut never lies to me. As soon as I got here I was feeling this visit. It really felt like a home away from home. I had a feeling here that I had with no other visit, so I knew this was the place to be.”
The trek from the Palmetto State to the New River Valley was met with hopeful anticipation when Patterson ran his first collegiate race at the Virginia Tech Invitational. The college newcomer made a name for himself right away by clocking a time of 32.49 seconds in the 300 meters, a U-20 world record.
“I wasn’t expecting that at all,” Patterson said. “The type of person I am, I just like to go out there and run. I don’t like to put limits on myself. When I did it, I was like, ‘woah.’ I’m a very humble person, so once I do something like that, I dwell on it for a day or two, but after that it’s ‘just keep going and focus on the next one.’”
The freshman continued to develop throughout the year, eventually punching a ticket to Austin, Texas for the Outdoor National Championships in the 400 meters. However, a torn hamstring prevented Patterson from competing, and instead he was left to watch those on the biggest stage.
It hurt in the moment, but it was a reminder of the values that Patterson’s mother and grandmother always emphasized.
“I’ve grown way closer with God. Faith is one of the biggest things about myself that I have now, and patience,” Patterson said. “Once I learned how to cope with those two, I know it will come when it comes.
“Going and watching everyone else run and seeing the heat I was supposed to go and run, it definitely put some hunger in me this year. That’s another drive that I have this year. Seeing where I was last year and coming back this year to use it as hunger and drive to get back there this year.”
Journey to 32.28
During his freshman season, Virginia Tech sprints coach Tim Vaught sat down with Patterson to ask if he wanted to run the 300-meters race again. Patterson learned that the collegiate record in the 300-meters was 32.32 seconds, and he and the coaching staff knew he had the capacity to break it.
However, the speedster decided to wait to run it again the following year. A year later at the Virginia Tech Invitational this past Friday, Patterson’s moment arrived. He knew in the back of his mind that 32.32 seconds was the time to beat for the collegiate record, set in 2010 by Georgia’s Torrin Lawrence.
Patterson discussed the race plan with his coaches. He thought back through the 300-meters race he ran last year in the same invitational and wondered what he could do differently to improve his time. The sprinter engaged in his normal routine, let the nerves release, and felt the connection that was a harbinger for the result to come.
“I knew my grandma was with me and I felt my grandma with me the whole time,” Patterson said. “Once I crossed the line, I saw 32.28 and I was like, ‘Wow.’ I couldn’t believe it.
“To come back this year and do it says a lot about what patience can do for you. It was definitely something to remember. I’ll never forget that.”
— Virginia Tech Track & Field (@HokiesTFXC) January 18, 2020
In a matter of 32.28 seconds, Patterson became a collegiate record holder in the 300-meters, running a time that qualifies as the sixth-fastest ever by an American. The heavenly connection that Patterson shared with his grandmother before and during the race was transferred to his mother once he began to soak it all.
“There’s been millions of people that ran the 300-meters race indoors and for you to be the fastest to ever do it definitely speak volumes,” Patterson said. “I’m not going to lie, I got a little emotional after the race because I called my mom. My mom also knows that her and my grandma are a big part of what I do. I called my mom and got a little emotional, but I got emotional with the right person because I knew she was proud. To see a smile on her face made me happy.”
Journey to Tokyo?
With the season just beginning, the star-studded sprinter is anxious for the road ahead. Patterson has his sights set on a trip to Albuquerque for the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, and later on with a return trip to Austin for the Outdoor Championships.
“I definitely want to make indoor and outdoor nationals,” Patterson said. “Really just want to stay healthy and stay consistent. As long as I do those, everything else will come into play.”
What else could be in the cards to come into play? As someone who’s now run the 11th-fastest time of anyone in the world in the 300-meters, Patterson is still hoping for his shot in Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics.
It’s been a dream of Patterson for a long time. High school teammates even joked around and called him “Tokyo,” recognizing the potential.
“That’s a big dream of mine. If not this year, then definitely 2024.” Patterson said. “I would love to even compete at the trials. That’s a milestone that everyone has a big dream of doing. To actually do it, I can’t even put it into words because I don’t know how it feels. I would definitely love to do that.”
That journey is still to be determined. In the meantime, Patterson remains the down-to-earth college student oozing with a supernatural ability. Plus, he still has the unconditional support every step of the way – in life and on the track – from the two women who have molded him.
“As long as I pray and talk to my grandma before the race, or my mom, then I know I’ll be all right,” Patterson said.