Jamaine Coleman spent a lot of time in the isolation unit at Archbishop Temple School.
The oldest of seven siblings, Coleman grew up in Preston, Lancashire, England, a city of more than 100,000 people near Manchester and Liverpool in the country’s industrial northwest.
Archbishop Temple is the finest school in town, and Coleman – in his Hogwarts-esque uniform of dark grey trousers, pale blue collared shirt, navy blue V-necked sweater and striped tie – looked the part of proper British schoolboy.
He did not act the part.
“I was a disruptive kid,” Coleman admitted. “I had a reputation for acting out in class and talking back to teachers.”
When he was 14, Coleman became so disruptive, he was relegated from the school’s high-achieving classes to a section full of hardened miscreants.
Things only got worse from there.
“I was suddenly surrounded by a lot of bad influences,” Coleman said.
And it showed.
He was caught stealing a classmate’s soccer ball. He regularly skipped detention.
These transgressions landed Coleman a few hours every day in “The Unit” – an isolated room where troublemakers sat with nothing but their guilt, and some classwork.
Still, he was dealing in misdemeanors. A trip to “The Unit” was less a punishment and more a rep-building badge of honor for Coleman and his band of rogues.
He needed more. He needed a wake-up call.
And he got it one fateful day at recess.
The day of the shove.
Coleman was raised less than an hour from Old Trafford, home of world-famous Manchester United Football Club.
As a kid, he was obsessed with soccer, especially the exploits of his beloved Man-U Red Devils.
He grew into a legitimate talent, earning a youth team spot at Bury F.C., a fourth-tier club based just outside of Preston.
By the time he was a teenager, Coleman had become a cocky, goal-scoring, attention-seeking, attitude-abundant striker – by his own estimation, the equivalent of a star high school quarterback in America. A true jock.
“I wasn’t always a scrawny distance runner,” he said. “When I played soccer for an academy, I had some meat on me. And I would throw my weight around.”
His demeanor and physical style of play made Coleman some enemies on the pitch. And, one day, tensions finally boiled over on the school yard at Archbishop Temple.
During a game of recess soccer, a classmate tackled Coleman and called him an unfriendly name (use your imagination). Coleman retaliated with a shove. The classmate fell backwards and hit his head on a wall. There was blood. The classmate was taken to the hospital.
Coleman had finally gone too far.
He was rushed to the principal’s office. Administrators yelled at him and called him a bully.
“I was in shock,” Coleman admitted. “It all happened so fast.”
The school considered expelling Coleman, but instead opted for an another punishment.
He was given a whole week in the isolation unit. He spent recess in the isolation unit for an additional three months. During that three-month span, he also spent half of his lunch break cleaning plates and tables in the canteen area.
“It was meant to be humiliating,” Coleman said. “… And it was.”
The final leg of his punishment was the Orchard Plan, a 10-week, five-hours-a-day course in which he learned different techniques to manage anger.
“It was an eye-opener,” Coleman said. “I don’t think the school thought I was in the same category as some of the kids in this program, but I think they wanted me to see it was a path I could easily start heading down.”
“That course became a turning point,” he said. “I started to realize I didn’t want to end up like some of the kids I was encountering.”
Coleman was a sophomore in high school when he completed the Orchard Plan. Soon after, he quit soccer and took up track. The long runs relaxed him. The mellowing of Jamaine Coleman had begun.
“My final two years of high school were drama and stress free,” he said.
When Coleman was a senior, he was asked to be an ambassador for the Orchard Plan. He spoke to more than 5,000 students at a conference inside the local soccer stadium.
He had become a bonafide success story.
“A newspaper wrote a story about me with the headline ‘Student Gets His Life Back on Track,’” Coleman recalled. “It was about how I had a macho ego when I played soccer, but running had really chilled me out.”
Coleman still likes soccer. It’s in his English blood. But, he admits that it wasn’t the best sport for him as a kid.
“Soccer made me very aggressive,” he said. “I also used to get very mad on the pitch, primarily at my own teammates. When I began focusing on track, the only person I had to blame for a bad performance was myself.”
Luckily, there were not many bad performances by Coleman during his first couple of years in the sport.
He emerged as a teenage track star in England, and that’s when the scholarship offers from America started to roll in.
When Coleman arrived at EKU, he was a two-time English high school national champion in the 2,000-meter steeplechase.
He had a big ego.
And he was wildly out of shape.
In his first race on American soil, Coleman ran unattached at the 2014 Bluegrass Cross Country Invitational in Lexington. He was decked out in a full Great Britain track and field kit. He finished 65th with an 8,000-meter time of 26-flat, more than two minutes behind the winner.
It was a sobering experience.
“I was pretty much walking the last mile,” Coleman said. “I had gone from being a national champion to a chump.”
… And he blamed everything and everyone but himself.
The heat was unlike northern England. His training at EKU was different than what he was used to.
Meanwhile … “I absorbed myself in the freshman college lifestyle,” Coleman admitted.
He was staying up late. Going to parties. Eating unhealthy food.
“I wasn’t dedicating my life to running, and it reflected in my athletic performances.”
He was also shirking his academic responsibilities.
“I came to EKU under the impression I was an athlete, not a student-athlete,” Coleman said. “Schooling was the least of my concerns. I came here to run.”
With his running times rising and his GPA falling, Coleman was ready to quit.
“I wasn’t happy,” he said. “I think the change was too much. I just wanted to go home.”
Over winter break of his freshman year, Coleman and his parents decided he would return to EKU and see the track season through.
It was a decision he would not regret.
During the indoor season, Coleman convinced head coach Rick Erdmann to let him train as an 800-meter runner. That meant high-volume speed work.
He slowly began to improve. That May, he took silver in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the OVC Outdoor Championships, losing only to future Olympian Ole Hesselbjerg.
Coleman also won over a girl at the end of his freshman year.
“As sappy as it sounds, falling in love may have kept me at EKU,” he said.
Coleman began dating Ashley Svec, a Kentucky native and member of EKU’s women’s cross country/track and field team.
“Ashley has made a big impact on my life,” he said. “She keeps me on the straight and narrow.”
As a sophomore, Coleman increased his mileage, expanded his aerobic capabilities and helped EKU finish 17th at the NCAA Cross Country Championships.
By the time he was a junior, Coleman was crushing personal-bests on a near-weekly basis. He ran 8:34.1 in the steeplechase at the 2017 NCAA East Region Preliminaries … the second-fastest time in the county and less than a second off Hesselbjerg’s EKU record.
He arrived in Eugene last season riding a wave of momentum. However, it all came crashing down when he was clipped at the line and finished sixth in his semifinal heat. He was the last man out of the finals.
Two days later, Coleman watched Louisville’s Edwin Kibichiy win the steeplechase national title while sitting in Hayward Field’s east grandstand.
He knew then he would dedicate 2018 to redemption.
It was officially #RevengeSZN.
Coleman’s rise from troubled schoolboy to out-of-shape malcontent to national title contender is a story worth telling because it’s far from a fairytale.
It’s a reminder that even broken roads can lead to the pinnacle.
Coleman’s life and career could have gone in many different directions.
“I know a lot of people, including myself, did not think I’d be here today, doing what I’m doing,” he said.
But Coleman matured. He worked. He persevered. And he started taking responsibility.
“It’s easy to blame other people when things aren’t going well,” he said. “One of the biggest things I’ve learned at EKU is that I have to start taking responsibility for my own actions. I’m the biggest determiner of what happens in my life.”
In May, Coleman graduated with a degree in history and a 3.45 GPA. The kid who came to Eastern Kentucky University “just to run” was a three-time U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) All-Academic selection.
And now, he has a chance to flip the script one more time.
On Friday night, with ESPN cameras broadcasting the race to a worldwide audience, Coleman will compete in the 2018 NCAA 3,000-meter steeplechase finals.
He has a chance to go from chump to national champion.
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