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At 2 a.m. on Aug. 2, 1992, Ohio State sprinter Chris Nelloms was sure he was going to die. He had just finished a two-hour training run in a park in his native Dayton when someone—no suspect was ever arrested—sprang from the bushes and shot him in the back. The bullet exited through the left side of his chest, after shattering his collarbone, puncturing a lung and severing an artery. Dizzy and near fainting, Nelloms, just 200 meters from home, needed 20 minutes to crawl to his front porch, where he knocked on the door before flopping onto his back.
Nelloms's mother, Gloria, answered the door and called 911. Had Nelloms received care five minutes later or had the bullet penetrated just a centimeter to the right, he would have died. Still, he lost 10 pints of blood. A vein from his leg was used to replace the damaged artery. A portion of his collarbone was removed.
A former high school All-America, Nelloms, who had just completed his sophomore season with the Buckeyes, was told by doctors that he was unlikely ever to run competitively again.
But slowly, steadfastly, Nelloms recovered. The miracle is how well. Nelloms girded for the Big Ten meet in May, but he nearly missed it when he collapsed on the track two days beforehand with chest pains. Doctors examined him and found nothing wrong. He went on to win the 100 and the 200.
At the NCAAs in June in New Orleans, he won the 200 and anchored the Buckeyes' victorious 4 X 400 relay team. Last Saturday in Buffalo, at the World University Games, he got the silver medal in the 200, finishing .03 of a second behind Bryan Bridgewater of Cal State-Los Angeles.
The 5'9", 150-pound Nelloms has yet to train as rigorously as he did before the shooting. He fatigues easily and occasionally has no feeling from his left ear down his arm to his fingertips. Yet Nelloms is sure he'll keep improving. "It scares me what I can be when I become the person I was," he says.
While the apparently random shooting has changed Nelloms's outlook on life—"Just being here means more than a victory," he said in Buffalo. "Before, I couldn't accept a loss"—he possessed a professional interest in morbidity even before it happened. Since 1990, Nelloms worked during the summers at House of Wheat, a funeral home in Dayton, and he plans to become an embalmer one day. "It's a nice future," he says. "You're always going to be born, and you're always going to die."
In between, you run for your life.