Cal Poly Pomona assistant track and field coach Joel Stallworth began running competitively two years ago. Despite that relatively short window of time, he has had a meteoric climb of success that may take him all the way to Beijing.
The 25-year-old Stockton native began his track and field career in 2006 after making a name for himself as an All-CCAA basketball player for Cal State Stanislaus. It did not take long before Stallworth's innate talent for running was recognized, and he was acknowledged as athlete of the year numerous times by the CCAA.
“I've always wanted to run,” says Stallworth. “When I played basketball it was everything to me, but I gave it up in my senior year at Stanislaus so I could pursue track and field.”
Practice and hard work granted Stallworth a personal-best time of 45.40 seconds on the 400-meter race that has qualified him for the Olympic Trials, to be held in Eugene, Ore., this June. Should he place in the top three, he would make the U.S. Olympic team that will compete this year in Beijing, China.
“It still hasn't hit me yet. Some people who have been running their whole lives won't get to this point. I want to represent my country in Beijing, so I have to stay focused and keep working hard because this can be taken away at any given moment,” he says.
The Olympic Trials come on the heels of his first international competition. In March, Stallworth competed in the 12th annual IAAF World Indoor Championships held in Valencia, Spain. He was selected to be part of Team USA in this international event after finishing fourth in a 400-meter race with an impressive time of 46.98 seconds. In Spain he ran in the preliminary rounds for the 4 x 400 relay where he finished first in the qualifying heat. The U.S. team then moved forward to win the event and, although Stallworth did not run in the finals, he was awarded a gold medal with the rest of his teammates.
“It felt great being able to put on red, white and blue. The gold medal just topped it off. It's a tremendous honor,” he says. “I don't look at it (the gold medal) too much because I still have a lot of work in front of me. It's something to be humble about, and it's a matter of me being in the right position at the right time.”
Stallworth credits much of his success to Troy Johnson, who coached him at Cal State Stanislaus. Johnson spent seven years as the assistant track and field coach at Cal State Stanislaus before accepting the head men's and women's track and field, and cross country coach position at Cal Poly Pomona.
“You can be great at a sport, but if you don't have a good coach then you can't get to the places I'm at now,” Stallworth says. “If you don't have the right tools then it just won't happen. I attribute a lot of my success to Coach Johnson because of his mentoring.”