During Deon Lendore’s first appearance for Texas A&M at the Texas Relays, the freshman middle distance runner quickly pinned on his bib before his first race.

Unaware of the mistake he had made, Lendore ran his race with the piece of paper pinned with his number upside down.

It didn’t take long for his teammates to realize that, in doing so, the Texas Longhorn logo on the bib was upside down, as well, beginning one of his many legacies on the program.

Thursday, members of the Aggie track family shared similar anecdotes of the “fearless champion’s” humility, wit and competitiveness during a memorial service in the Kyle Field Hall of Champions. The Bowerman Award winner and A&M volunteer assistant coach was killed in a car accident Jan. 10 in Milam County. He was 29.

“As coaches, we all have athletes we know as athletes,” A&M head coach Pat Henry said. “Deon became a friend. In 10 years, he was a great friend of mine. We didn’t have that athlete-coach relationship that whole time. He became a friend.”
Current and former members of the A&M track program were in attendance as well as friends and a few members of Lendore’s family. Most of the Trinidad and Tobago native’s immediate family were unable to make the trip to Texas due to pandemic travel complications, but the service was live streamed for those unable to attend.

Among those who spoke were Lendore’s brother-in-law Keive Vanloo, A&M track athletic trainer Saul Luna, former A&M coach Alleyene Francique and Henry. During a time of open expressions, speakers included his current professional coach Vice Anderson, his girlfriend Jasper Gray and her family, several professional teammates and training partners and former A&M teammates.

“We the family will be forever grateful to you, Texas A&M, for making him a part of your family — for providing and giving your best to serve in a field that he loved,” Vanloo said. “Deon will live on through the sands of time and his legacy will live on forever in our hearts.”

When Lendore was a teenager on his home island, he searched YouTube for tips and tricks on how to become a better track athlete. During that process, he found a video of A&M’s 2010 NCAA champion 4x400 relay team and immediately fell in love with the school. He reached out to Henry about the opportunity to run for the Aggies.
It didn’t take long for the Aggie coaching staff to reciprocate the love. Approximately a week after Lendore reached out, he became a member of the A&M squad, Henry said.

“It was not just his accomplishment,” Vanloo said. “It was a community achievement. It was a celebration like no other. One of us was going to college in the U.S. Oh, what an achievement that was. We were so proud of him.”

That skinny kid, or “tall man” as his family called him, went on to run in the 2012, 2016 and 2020 Olympics as the anchor of the Trinidad and Tobago 4x400 relay. His team won bronze in the London Olympics, after he held off Great Britain’s Martyn Rooney in the final leg. In 2014, while at A&M, he went undefeated through 14 races at 400 meters, winning both the NCAA indoor and outdoor championships. His efforts made him A&M’s only male Bowerman Award winner.

“With the volume of work that Deon has had, I would say he is probably the finest male track athlete we have ever had,” Henry said.
An emotional Francique said he has told several former A&M runners to dedicate their seasons to Lendore’s memory and requested that every 400-meter race run by A&M this season be named in honor of the Olympian.

“He was a young man with many qualities,” Francique said. “He was caring. He was [dependable]. He was courageous and he loved his family. To many of you, he was a teammate. He was a mentor, an athlete and a fierce competitor. But to me, he was family.”

While he continued to train over the last two years, Lendore helped the program he fell in love with by serving as a volunteer coach. Henry said he had a knack for the small details of running and would frequently help teammates improve long before he took up coaching.

Gray remembered first hearing his thick Caribbean accent six years ago and hardly understanding a word he said. Over their years together, she learned to perfectly speak the same language, she said. As she begins a career as a track coach, Gray said she carries his legacy of love for those he coached with her.

“Deon was literally my heart,” she said. “I will love him forever and he meant the world to me. I hope you guys cherish him and continue living out his legacy.”

Current A&M hurdler Kennedy Smith sat in the audience, a year removed from a personal best in the 100-meter hurdles at the Texas Relays. Her “horns down” celebration after the race, complete with upside down bib, became a hit among the 12th Man. It also echoed back to the impact of her assistant coach.

“Our team has worn it that way for nine years now and some people in Austin don’t like that,” Henry said. “In fact, they’ve come to us as a team and told us they thought we should not do that. We’re going to keep doing it.”

Source: https://theeagle.com