Parros soon learned he had those familiar talents.
In his first season, he set the freshman state record in the 400-meter dash. It was a promising start for someone who grew up searching for the sport he wanted to pursue.
“I tried soccer, didn’t like that. Went to a little league baseball game, hated that,” Parros said with a laugh. “The one sport that I really liked was ice hockey … I stopped that because playing two age levels up and being so small, I was just getting destroyed.”
Now, it’s hard to argue that his choice to take up track hasn’t paid off.
By his junior year, Parros had quit all other sports to focus solely on track. After he graduated, Parros said his 400 time was among the top 50 in the world.
Naturally, colleges noticed.
“I was getting recruited by a lot of schools,” he said. “UNC was one of the schools that really kind of constantly was consistently there.”
Entering college, Parros — who became the ACC indoor champion in the 400 in each of his first two seasons and an All-American as a freshman — had a work ethic that garnered attention from both his coaches and teammates.
“Since his freshman year, he’s been putting in a lot of work in the weight room, getting his body and his mind ready for the challenge that’s ahead,” UNC assistant coach Davian Clarke said.
Teammate O’Neal Wanliss said training with Parros never lacks intensity.
“It’s challenging. That’s one of the reasons I came to this school, to have training partners like Clayton,” Wanliss said. “When I’m tired, he’ll push me to go faster. I can’t show any signs of weakness around him.”
It’s this combination of natural talent, genetics and an unwavering avidity to improve that most would believe helped Parros get to where he is today.
But he said it’s more than that.
Parros said Larry James, one of his mentors and a double medalist at the 1968 Summer Olympics, instilled in him a desire that reaches far beyond the rubber circle.
“(Track) is a combination of having a sound, healthy body, a sound mind and a sound spirit,” Parros said. “(James) was all about the spiritual, mental and physical and bringing that together to make you the best athlete and best person that you can be.
“Just everything that he was able to teach me just brought me to a whole other level as an athlete and as a person.”
Parros qualified for the trials by posting a time of 45.78 last season. He said he’d have to run faster than that to win a spot on the team, but doesn’t shy away from the challenge.
If he makes it to the finals on June 24, Parros said he has a realistic shot at making the team.
“It’s gonna be very, very tough,” he said. “As long as I keep my priorities straight and keep killin’ it out here on the track, I think it’s something that is going to happen.”
At the 2008 trials, only two of the seven runners in the men’s 400 final were college athletes. But Parros remains unfazed.
“I look at it as a challenge. It’s fun going into a meet as a college runner, knowing that there are professionals that you’re going to get to compete against,” he said. “It gives you an opportunity to beat them and just show people that you’re coming in and you mean business.”
June 22 will be a big day for Clayton Parros. He hopes June 24 is even bigger.
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