– Craig Loper, EDN
His lengthy 6’1” frame and powerful legs help him to glide across the track as if effortlessly pursuing the finish line.
With personal bests of 21.25 (200) and 46.89 (400), University of Oregon junior Chris Stubbs is undoubtedly one of the fastest sprinters each time he steps on the track.
His path to the UO, however, hasn’t shared that same speed.
Born and raised in Eugene, Stubbs, or “Junior” as people like to call him, attended Willamette High School. After running his freshman year, Stubbs suffered a broken leg his sophomore year that would force him to miss the entire track season.
He admits, though, track wasn’t his focus early in his high school career.
“I wasn’t really thinking about track too much,” said Stubbs. “All I wanted to be able to do was get up and walk.”
It wasn’t until his junior year in high school that Stubbs’ love for track began to bloom.
“That’s when I started getting into it,” he said. “I got serious about it every day.”
As his training began to increase, so did his speed. In 2008, his senior year, Stubbs ran the fastest time in the state of Oregon in both the 200 (21.88) and the 400 (49.13), but finished second in the state while nursing a sore hip during the state championships.
While Stubbs’ speed on the track was beginning to show a promising future, his life off of it was the polar opposite.
A far from stable family lifestyle Stubbs decided to move out after his freshman year of high school. Spending the remaining three years sleeping couch to couch at friends’ houses, often never telling them what was happening with his family.
“The living situation I had was not healthy at all,” he said. “I knew if I wanted to make something of myself I had to leave that atmosphere because I didn’t need that negativity around me.”
“Not cherry-picking or taking advantage of families, it was just what I needed to do,” he said. “Most of the families I stayed with didn’t even know what was going on because I didn’t tell them.”
Stubbs would use his unstable past family life as motivation not only on the track, but in the classroom as well.
“I kind of used that as fuel to the fire to graduate,” he said. “Because it was the same high school my parents didn’t even graduate from.”
Stubbs admits his academic record his first three years were less than stellar. However, he would go on to win the Turnaround Achievement Award his senior year, an award given each year to a student who has had to overcome tremendous difficulties in their high school career.
“I was pretty proud of that,” he said. “And it just started like a chain of success in my life.”
Stubbs says he received many letters of interest from Division I schools across the country, but ultimately decided to attend Lane Community College and run track.
While his path now seemed clearer than ever before, Stubbs had difficulty getting on campus at Lane for various reasons.
“I was telling people I was going to go to start school but I didn’t do anything after high school,” he said. “I ended up not starting until almost a year later in the spring of ’09, and started working out.”
Even with a year off, Stubbs’ speed hadn’t gone too far.
“My first meet I ran a 50.5” he said. “That was pretty good for not doing anything all year.”
Despite Stubbs’ physical capabilities and his improving times, his mental strength had been hindered from where it was just a year ago.
“I was thinking negative all the time,” he said. “I think it’s because I started late and I didn’t train all season so I didn’t have the confidence to perform that I could have had.”
Stubbs recalls it took words of wisdom from Lane head coach Grady O’Connor to help pull him out of his mental slump.
“He knew I was having problems prepping mentally,” Stubbs said. “I remember he came up to me at a meet and said ‘don’t worry about winning your race, just go out there and have fun’ and I didn’t realize it until after the race but what he said relaxed me.”
Stubbs won that race and many others at Lane. Eventually going on to become the NWAACC champion in the 100 and 200 and placing fifth at the USATF Junior Nationals in the 200 in 2009.
Stubbs would redshirt in 2010 for the Titans but would run as an “unattached” at various meets across the state, eventually catching the eye of Oregon sprinting coach Robert Johnson during the Oregon preview meet.
“He (Johnson) was talking to my grandma in the stands after the meet but I didn’t know who it was,” said Stubbs. “My grandma relayed the message that he had told her that they (UO) really wanted me.”
Stubbs was overjoyed at the possible opportunity to run for his hometown team, an opportunity that he says he never thought possible.
“As a kid I always looked at this campus and could never imagine running track for them because it’s a top-caliber team in the nation,” he said. “Once I heard great things about Johnson it changed my motivation to settle somewhere else and made me really want to go for this.”
Now settled into his routine at Oregon, Stubbs’ journey came full circle more than two weeks ago when he participated in the Oregon Relays, winning his heat in the 200 with a time of 22.03.
“I took my sweats off and I had the jersey on and it felt great,” said Stubbs. “I didn’t even have to run and people gave me respect.”
Currently nursing a strained hamstring, Stubbs didn’t run in the Pac-12 Championships this past weekend but has one year of eligibility remaining in outdoor competition and four years of indoor competition.
Each of which he is looking forward to and grateful for because of the obstacles he has had to conquer to make it to the level he has.
“It shows that you’ve worked hard to get there.”
Indeed it does, Chris.
Follow Craig on Twitter: @CloperII