A fifth-grader tearing through a 400-meter dash, afro blowing in the wind as he leaves his competition in the dust, may sound like the epitome of fun.
Rashawn Fountain didn’t think so at first.
After his family moved from Detroit to Eden Prairie, Minn., his father began coaching a track and field team. He didn’t give his son much of a choice about participating.
“He goes, ‘Hey, son. You want to come check out practice today?’” Fountain said. “I go, ‘No, I don’t.’ He goes, ‘All right, cool, get in the car.’ So I got in the car.”
And when the team wanted to see how the coach’s son stacked up, there also wasn’t much discussion.
“He said, ‘Hey, son. You want to jump in the 400?’” Fountain recalled. “I was like, ‘No, I don’t. I don’t want to be here right now.’ He was like, ‘All right, jump in lane eight.’”
It turns out that father does know best. As reluctant as Fountain was at first, he was hooked on running after that race.
A current redshirt freshman on the Gophers men’s track and field team, Fountain needed a similar push when switching events this year. His coach asked if he’d played wide receiver in high school and deemed Fountain athletic enough to become a hurdler — an event in which he didn’t have much experience.
It seems to have turned out for the best again.
In just a few short meets as a 400-meter hurdler, Fountain is already sixth on Minnesota’s top-10 all-time list. He said he plans to continue to climb that list before the end of the season, with goals to break 52 seconds at next weekend’s Drake Relays and 50 seconds by the Big Ten championships or NCAA regionals.
These are lofty goals for a program that hasn’t had a strong tradition of hurdlers in several years — the last Big Ten champion and All-American in the event was in 2002.
Minnesota assistant coach Paul Thornton said the decision to groom Fountain as the new face of Gophers hurdling was a matter of finding where Fountain’s strengths most helped the program.
“It was a lack of people in that event on our team,” he said. “This provides him with the greatest opportunity to be able to score at a conference meet.”
Fountain’s roommate, sophomore Goaner Deng, said the two often muse about where they can propel their team.
“We always sit in our apartment and talk about the condition of our team and what it will look like moving forward,” he said. “For our program to begin to have an in-depth group of hurdlers, it’s going to start with a guy like him.”
Thornton said there was no question that Fountain could become a leader on the team. And Fountain said he thinks he can start a hurdling trend in the next four years.
He added that he’s on the early side of the learning curve and has much room for improvement — promising, considering he’s already broken into the top-10 list in his first year of competition.
“He’s going to continue to get better,” Thornton said.
While Fountain is making great strides in his career on the track, he gets some flak from his teammates off the track — for his fashion sense.
Fountain likes clothes. His roommate, Deng, likes shoes. So one-upping each other’s outfits is commonplace.
“I am pretty shallow when it comes to shopping,” Fountain said. “I spend money on a lot of things I probably shouldn’t spend money on.”
Fountain said one of his weaknesses is the athletic clothing store Lululemon.
“I get made fun of a lot for it because a lot of the guys think it’s just a female brand,” he said. “It’s totally not.”
In fact, at the large warehouse sale Lululemon held at the Minneapolis Convention Center a few weekends ago, Fountain bought golf shirts, jackets and skull caps — no yoga pants.
Deng said his roommate’s father influences Fountain a lot, but there’s one thing he didn’t inherit: persuasion.
“He tried to drag me along [to the warehouse sale],” Deng said. “I told him, ‘I’m not coming. You couldn’t give me a million dollars to go.’”