Kind Butler: 'Today, we become legends'
March 25, 2014
Kind Butler can't sit still when he describes the build- up.
The loquacious ex-Indiana sprinter pops off a set of bleachers and pantomimes walking up a set of steps to try to visually recreate his journey from a tunnel at Ergo Arena in Sopot, Poland, to the track where he would participate in the relay race of his life -- the 4x400 meter relay at the IAAF World Indoor Championships earlier this month. He vividly and passionately recalls the sounds, his words and the feeling.
"We're walking through these tunnels, I'm talking to our guys, I'm saying, `Today, this is the day that we become legends,'" Butler said. "`We are lions. No one is going to take this away from us today.' ... Everything we've ever trained for and worked hard for is leading up to this moment. Just have to take a deep breath, walk up the steps and it opens up and it's time.
"That moment, I felt the most alive I've ever felt."
The race itself he can't describe in as much emotional detail, because there was a significant portion of it for which he wasn't mentally present. He remembers teammate Kyle Clemons' first leg and David Verburg's second leg. He remembers taking the baton and feeling afraid for most of the first 200-meter lap that he was going to be caught by the Great Britain runner behind him.
But after that, adrenaline kicked in to such a degree that he doesn't remember anything.
"After the first lap, I blacked out," he said. "That was it."
When he came to, he was a world record holder. He didn't process his blazing 45.41-second split or his teammate Calvin Smith's 45.12-second anchor leg, but he did see the scoreboard that read 3:02.13, signaling that Butler and the rest of Team USA had run the fastest indoor 4x400-meter relay in world history. The time eclipsed the previous record of 3:02.83, set by the Americans in 1999.
"My knees got really weak and I dropped to the ground," Butler said. "I started crying, obviously. This is what I've been wanting forever. This is what dreams are made of."
"Forever," in this case is a gross overstatement, but it was a dream that was hard-earned.
Track and field wasn't even a consideration for Butler until the last month of his senior year at Lawrence Central High School when he finally left the baseball team to become a high jumper. He leaped 6-foot-8 that year and was given a scholarship to Kentucky State. He tore his patella there and lost his scholarship, but caught a break when Indiana took him on as a walk-on. He proceeded to earn seven All-American certificates, setting IU school records in the indoor 60 and 200 meters and running the second-fastest times in school history in the outdoor 100 and 200.
Butler decided to make a professional push, but that's been more of a slog than either high school or college were. His times have improved and he's scored invites to big meets, but he doesn't have a sponsor to pay for his training.
He spent the first year of his professional career living in Bloomington and working out with IU sprints coach Jeff Huntoon, but after that he had to move back to Indianapolis so that he could live with his parents and save money on rent. He was fortunate that he could work with his former high school coach Michael Holman, who is now the coach at Marian University and who has connections with the U.S. Olympic team.
"We have good training facilities here and he could live at home," Holman said. "I could pay him a little as an assistant coach and that could keep him afloat enough to pursue his dream."
He finally caught a big break in January. A year ago, he won the 200 meters at the Five-Nations Meet in Glasgow, Scotland and he was invited back this year to run on the Team USA 4x400-meter team. He ran a strong leg there though his team didn't do well, and he was entered in the open 400 at the USA national indoor meet in Albequerque, N.M. in late February. He finished third with a time on 45.84 seconds, just missing a spot in the open 400 at the World Championships in Sopot, but earning a spot on the relay team.
The experience left him no less broke but much more hopeful.
"When I went to Sopot, I had $37 in my pocket," Butler said. "I had $37 and a dream."
And if he was going to dream, Butler was going to dream big. He might have been the most unheralded member of the relay team, but he took it upon himself to be the team's spiritual leader. From the time they arrived in Poland, he made sure the group spent as many of their waking moments together as possible, and that he reminded them continuously that they could break the record, sometimes using over-the-top dramatics.
"One of his speeches, it was like it was from Braveheart," Calvin Smith said. "`Today is our day. We're going to give it our all and no one can hold us back.' At some points, I was like, `Man, you need to calm down before you tire yourself out.' But it was a little inspiring and I think it made us think maybe we do have a chance at this."
Said Holman: "Kind has got the most infectious personality. I've never seen him without a smile on his face. He's always optimistic and he's never lacked for confidence. ... It's huge when you truly believe and have the confidence that you can do that."
It turned out Butler was right, and that's given his career the jump start he's long awaited for. Butler said that since his team set the world record, he's been in discussions with Adidas and Nike about shoe deals, which could be critical in his hopes to push for spots at next year's outdoor world championships in Beijing and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
The world record also meant a payday unto itself. For the world record, the IAAF pays out $50,000, which is split among the four runners. The gold medal also pays out $40,000, which Butler said is split between five people. Combined, that's a $20,500 paycheck.
"It's a pretty good little profit for running 45 seconds," Butler said. "... Just 45 seconds changed my life."
And he only remembers half of it.
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