On June 22nd, 2015, high school seniors, Clayton Forman and Matt Greason, got on a plane headed to St. Kitts. The plane landed on a, what seemed to be, perfect day. Clear skies, blue water and an endless horizon. Ready to start their two week journey on the small Carribean oasis, Forman and Greason left the airport with their mentor, John Roddick. Within five minutes of the airport, the views were impeccable and it immediately caught the eye of the entire crew. What also caught their eye was a bus — plowing around the corner, on track for Forman’s passenger door.
Growing up in Potomac, Maryland, it is quite evident that prestige was on the horizon. There was nothing but success in sight — winding roads with large homes and luxury cars are abundant in this Washington, D.C. suburb. From politicians to professional athletes, they had it all. Forman’s life was destined for the fast track to success.
Forman started St. Alban’s School in the Fall of 2012. Wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps, he had his eyes set on Yale. Standing 5’10” and weighing only 130 pounds, he was not turning heads with his stature. Rather, he sprung off the track with ease that could not be taught. His agility and quickness earned him the only freshman spot on the decorated and prestigious varsity track team.
Forman was a highly anticipated freshman; ranked number one in the state in the Class of 2016 and expected to compete with the best runners in the region. He quickly caught Coach Ehrenhaft’s eye as soon as he started to effortlessly glide across the track during the Summer of 2012. “He was a flawless runner,” Ehrenhaft said. “I have seen a lot of kids run but I knew as soon as I saw him run that he had the ability to be great if he applied himself.” His potential was endless and Forman was determined to reach his full ability.
As Forman saw a bus speeding around the corner and closing in rapidly, he knew he was at the mercy of the driver. “I saw it out of the corner of my eye but no one thinks they are going to get into an accident” described Matt Greason. The bus was barreling towards the team like a game of chicken they weren’t in control of — and there wasn’t anything he could do about it. A second later, the bus collided, full speed, into Forman’s passenger door, sending it flipping down the road leaving the lives of the passengers in question.
Within what seemed to be years, Forman found himself looking out of a hospital window, listening to the clucking chickens outside and complaining about excruciating pain. “I woke up and I thought my back was broken,” Forman said. He recalls his stay at the hospital being concerning. Not knowing the injuries he incurred, he was worried that the care needed for his injuries were not available due to the lack of resources and technology on the small island of St. Kitts.
The competition in the private school division was strong. St. Alban’s went head to head with schools that recruited athletes from all over the country. Gonzaga, Georgetown Prep and Episcopal always loomed in the background, waiting to take revenge on the notoriously strong St. Alban’s Track and Field team.
Warming up for the first meet of Forman’s freshman year, the team was dancing around in excitement — knowing that this was their year to make a run for the state title. Five athletes on the team had offers from major Division I programs — including Tai Dinger, a Stanford commit and one of the fastest mile runners in the country. “Ever since freshman year I had great mentors. It sounds cliche, but they were really fast and they pushed me to be better.” said Forman. The team’s confidence and belief was strong but the individual path to victory was long and, clearly, unknown.
Forman’s first few races of his 2012 Freshman season were nerve racking and lacking grace. But, once he got his legs and nerves settled, he was able to compete with the best runners in the state. Forman ended the season with several 2nd place finishes but could never chase down Dinger. “If I want to be like him one day, I am going to have to really work for it.” said Forman. “But I could run track at Yale or Stanford and that’s the ultimate goal.”
The resources on the island in-fact proved to be insufficient. “They wouldn’t even do an x-ray and I had just been hit by a bus going 50 miles per hour,” Forman said. Doug Forman, Clayton’s father, decided to take matters into his own hands.
Being a surgeon, he knew exactly what he needed to do. He decided that Clayton had to return to the U.S.; however, due to Clayton’s his injuries, he could not make it home on a commercial plane. Luckily for them, Greason and Forman’s fathers had the financial affluence to charter a jet and fly Forman home in order to get Clayton home and get the medical care he needed. “It was kind of ridiculous but that’s what they decided to do,” he said.
Returning to the U.S. was a relief in the Forman household. His parents were now able to take care of him and hope he recovered well enough to return to his normal self.
Forman’s early success and exposure landed him several recruiting letters and unofficial visits to a few schools of interest. “Sophomore year was the year I started getting letters. It started off with really small schools.” Forman said. “Amherst sent me a letter and that is when I started to consider running track in college.” The season was off to a quick start and Forman began winning large invitationals. Running track at Yale no longer seemed like a far fetched goal.
When Forman’s best friend from childhood, Joe Siciliano, committed to play lacrosse at Yale, his mind was made up. He was going to run track at Yale if the offer was presented.
In the Spring of Junior year, Forman was on fire. He ran a four minute and fifteen second (4:15) 1600m — landing him one of the top 25 times in the country. Being one of the best runners at one of the most prestigious private schools in Washington D.C., all of the elite schools were reaching out. “This is when I really started to get national attention. Since I wasn’t able to directly speak to the coaches, Coach Ehrenhaft had a lot of conversations with the Yale coach. Then I visited Stanford and met with the assistant coaches and familiar faces on the team.”
Everything was going as planned and the future seemed luminous. The wind was now at his back and his momentum was carrying him through the finish line.
Forman’s injury left him bed ridden for the next few months and his hopes and dreams of running collegiate track in jeopardy.
Day after day, Forman did his rehabilitation hoping he would be able to stride like he used to. He knew he wasn’t as strong as he had once been and he was growing more impatient as time passed. “There is nothing worse than not being able to do what you’re best at,” Forman said. After several months and rehabilitation progressing, Forman tried to hop back on the track. Unfortunately, the attempt was lackluster. “Whenever I would run, it felt like my head wasn’t on my shoulders,” he said.
After several months, Forman’s back was not recovering as he hoped and reality hit. He was no longer able to competitively run. The once starstruck runner was now having to refocus on something new. The track was no longer an activity, but a reminder of the fragility and unpredictability that life is susceptible to.
The realization that life’s most enjoyable moments are so fragile hit Forman so quickly that he still hoped he was able to get back onto the track. Unfortunately, the reality was that the future held something different — a reevaluation of the things that last a lifetime rather than less than five minutes on a track.