As an Olympic silver medalist in the 110 meter hurdles, David Payne has achieved one of the highest pinnacles in any athletic career.

Payne says he now wants to help inspire young people to achieve their own dreams of success, but not necessarily just because of his accomplishments. He wants to inspire them because his story is one many young people can relate to. He says his career was not laid out as destiny from his earliest days.  It was something he had to search to find.

Payne was honored March 22 by the and many friends, family members and well-wishers as was re-named David Payne Park. A park bench was also donated by Payne’s family and their friends, the Chenault family, as a tribute to Ruth and James Payne, Payne’s grandparents, and Vera and Leonard Chenault, their friends and neighbors, for their civic activism.

Early Years in Wyoming

Growing up in Wyoming, Payne says he has fond memories of being part of a strong where he felt comfortable and loved. He says he was typical of most kids his age, striving to find his niche, not an athletic prodigy at an early age that many people might assume of an Olympian.

“Basketball was my first love,” he says. “That’s what I really wanted to do.  But I was better at track. You do what you’re better at.”

He began his track and field career in 1998 during his junior year at Wyoming High School, somewhat late in the timeline of high school athletics. His natural ability led him to excel quickly, however. He placed third in the state meet as a junior. After high school, he attended the University of Cincinnati, but not as a scholarship athlete. In fact, Payne almost gave up track and field completely after high school.

Searching for His Dreams

It was during his sophomore year that he decided to walk on to the track and field team at UC. He had missed competing as a freshman and decided to give it another try. It was a fateful decision.  In his first year with the team he won a Conference USA title, and the following year placed third in the NCAA Championships. He had found his niche.

He continued training seriously and achieved a bronze medal in the World Championships at Osaka, Japan in 2007, a silver medal in the 2007 Pan American games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and a gold medal in the 2007 AAF Diamond League Super Grand Prix in Doha, Qatar. Ultimately, he qualified for the 2008 Olympic team in Beijing, China and won a silver medal.

After his Olympic win, Payne faced a near career-ending tragedy when he broke his femur at a meet in Switzerland in 2013.  Once again he had to dig deep to find his determination to not only learn to run again but to walk. The support of his family and friends in Wyoming helped him recover and he eventually qualified for the 2016 Olympic trials, a tremendous success given his injury.

“It was a confidence booster,” he says of making the trials, even though he did not make the team.

The setback was another life lesson, he adds, one that anybody can learn from.

“In life you’re going to get way more ‘no’s’ than ‘yes’s,’” he says.  “You need determination to make it.”

He is now aspiring to coach at the college level and is planning on pursuing a master’s degree at UC toward that goal. He has also done some high school coaching, including at WHS, and is a personal trainer for high school athletes who want to improve their performance.

In the years ahead, when Wyoming youth visit David Payne Park, he hopes they hear his story and remember that finding their niche may take some searching, but it’s worth the effort.

“I would love to have kids see the plaque and be inspired to work hard to be great at something they’re passionate about,” he says.

NOTE:  David Payne will be a special guest at the Valley Interfaith Resource Center’s annual 5K Run and Walk on April 7 at Glenwood Gardens.  If you’d like to meet Payne, he will be at the event at 8:30 a.m. to greet participants.  He will remain at the event until it is over to hand out raffle baskets and congratulate participants.  All proceeds benefit VICRC.  For more information about the 5K, go to http://www.vicrc.org/register-for-the-5k/.