AFTER hearing that his former training partner Deon Lendore, 29, had died on Monday night, Akini Thomas still sent the three-time Olympian a WhatsApp message anticipating a possible response.
But it was not to be.
Lendore’s death was reported by KBTX – a CBS affiliated virtual channel – which said the crash that killed Lendore happened outside Bryan-College Station on Highway 6 in the Brazos Valley region of Texas, on Monday, just after 7 pm.
Details of the crash, which happened northwest of Houston, were not available but Texas A&M University head coach Pat Henry confirmed the news. In online reports, Henry said Lendore was on his way home from practice at the time.
The national quarter-miler, a 12-time All-American as an athlete at Texas A&M, was serving at the university as a volunteer assistant coach with 400m and 800m running athletes. He was expected to return home next week.
Thomas, 32, said he last spoke to Lendore over Christmas, and had no idea it would be their final conversation.
The pair, alongside fellow Abilene Wildcats 400m athlete Hendricks Foncette, trained together for several years and had plans to revive the club’s transition programmes for junior athletes entering the senior arena.
Thomas said, “Getting the news last night (Monday), I messaged his phone just asking for a response. I just wanted a reply from him, because I didn’t believe it.
"He never replied.
“Deon is not reckless and he does not speed. He would not play with his life.
"It’s still surreal and hard to digest, even though confirmation is there.”
At the club, Lendore and Foncette were known as the "twin towers" because of their height. Thomas reminisced about the last time he trained alongside Lendore – six or seven years ago – when they earned an Abilene Wildcats club record for the highest number of non-stop treks up and down Calvary Hill in Arima. Thomas does not remember the final tally but knows their joint record still stands.
“We shared a brotherly relationship because we trained together. Because of our club record, Abilene then made an internal club challenge called ‘king of the hill.’ But our record remains to date.
“I only got two hours' sleep last night. The tears are just flowing. We’re just trying to keep it together. Club coach Charlie Joseph asked me to go see Deon’s mom, but I’m not ready for that. I don’t want to walk in and Deon’s not there. Just the thought of his mother’s cry(ing) is painful enough.”
World Athletics says Lendore made his global debut at the 2009 World U18 Championships and competed at the World U20 Championships in 2010. The following year he ran at his first senior World Athletics Championships and less than 12 months later, at 19, he made his Olympic debut in London.
There, he helped TT to two national 4x400m records, as the team (which also included Jarrin Solomon, Ade Alleyne-Forte and Lalonde Gordon) first won their heat and then improved again to claim Olympic bronze behind the Bahamas and US.
In the 400m event, Lendore dipped under 45 seconds for the first time in 2013, running 44.94 seconds to claim NCAA silver. He was unbeaten in individual events in 2014, counting the NCAA 400m titles among his victories, and later received the Bowerman award. The 45.03s personal best indoor time that year remains the national record.
Lendore claimed his first world medal in 2015, when he formed part of TT’s silver-medal squad (with Gordon, Renny Quow and Machel Cedenio) in Beijing. He secured two world indoor medals the following year, gaining bronze in both the 400m and 4x400m.
He repeated his 400m feat indoors in Birmingham two years later and in 2019 he ran the opening leg as part of TT's golden 4x400m performance (with Cedenio, Jereem Richards and Asa Guevara) at the World Athletics Relays.
After his second Olympic appearance in Rio in 2016, Lendore competed at his third games in Tokyo in 2021, helping his team (Cedenio, Richards and Dwight St Hillaire) to eighth place in the 4x400m final and reaching the 400m semi-finals.
He went on to finish third in the Wanda Diamond League 400m final in Zurich last September.
National 400m teammate Cedenio said Lendore’s death remains “a hard pill to swallow.”
"It’s painful to deal with this. Nobody ever thought the Tokyo Games would have been our last dance as a team. I still cannot come to terms with it,” Cedenio said.
TT sprinter Kion Benjamin, who made his Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games in the men’s 4x100m relay, said via WhatsApp, “The topic is still very sensitive for me and my friends as it feels very unreal. I don’t feel ready to speak on this topic soon.”
TRIBUTES POUR INLendore also competed professionally under contract with mega-athletics brand Puma. The world-renowned company hailed his immense contributions to the sport via Twitter.
Puma tweeted, “We are deeply saddened by the passing of Deon Lendore, who has been a part of the Puma family since 2017. We are honoured that he had chosen us to be by his side for a large part of his successful track and field career. Our thoughts are with his family.”
Tributes also poured in from the Office of the Prime Minister, National Administration of Athletics Association of TT, MP for Arima Pennelope Beckles and Queen’s Royal College principal David Simon, among others.
TTOC president Brian Lewis said, “Deon has flown the TT flag with pride, honour, patriotism and an indomitable will throughout his career while helping and inspiring many.
“We express our deepest and heartfelt condolences to his family, friends, teammates, coaches, Abilene Club, Arima community and all who he would have touched. It is a sad day for the TTOC and Commonwealth Sport Movement.”
Minister of Sport and Community Development Shamfa Cudjoe saluted Lendore’s contribution to the development and promotion of athletics hailing him an “inspiration”.
“He epitomised hope and joy each time his feet landed on the track. He was indeed a trailblazer, a life gone too soon. We thank him for everything he has done and for giving distinguished and diligent service to TT. May his soul rest in eternal peace.”
Newsday tried to reach Texas A&M athletics fraternity and coach Henry but was unable to get any response. Attempts were also made to contact Lendore’s domestic coach Joseph, but up to press time, he was yet to return our calls.