By Murray Evans
OKLAHOMA CITY (Jan. 28, 2013) – Damon Sims’ specialty was running in 100- and 200-meter bursts and he’d excelled in high school races in Louisiana doing that. That didn’t prepare him for one of his first workouts his freshman year upon arriving at Oklahoma Christian in 1992.
Randy Heath – then, as now, OC’s track and field coach – dropped off his runners about 10 miles from the university and told them he’d meet them back at the campus. The idea of such a run is to build endurance in each runner and see what sort of conditioning will be needed as the season progresses.
“My eyes were as big as saucers,” Sims said, laughing. “I was in Oklahoma. I didn’t know where I was at. I had never run more than two miles in my life. My heart was racing and beating. I had never done anything like that. I was not accustomed to running distances like that.”
Of course, Sims made it back to the campus and ran right into the OC record book as one of the finest sprinters in the university’s history. The six-time NAIA All-American will join five others selected for induction into the OC Athletic Hall of Fame at the annual Hall of Fame banquet on Feb. 8.
As a sophomore, Sims won the 200 meters in the 1994 NAIA Outdoor Championships. That was his only national title, but he was in the mix five other times, finishing in the top six in the outdoor 100 (1994), the outdoor 200 (1995), the indoor 200 (1995) and the indoor 400 (1994, 1996).
“He had an impact right from his freshman year,” Heath said. “I knew he was fast and I was hopeful. He was tall and had long legs. He didn’t carry a lot of weight. He was thin. He could run like the wind. He had a strong determination to sprint the whole distance. He was tenacious.”
Sims set the school’s outdoor 200 record of 20.85 seconds in a race he didn’t win, at the 1995 NAIA meet.
“To go under 21 flat is amazing, really,” Heath said. “There are a lot of Division I and Division II NCAA schools that don’t often have that good of a sprinter. He was in a very upper group of sprinters by being able to do that.”
Indeed, Sims was an elite runner. Coming out of high school in Baton Rouge, La., he received about a dozen scholarship offers, many from NCAA Division I schools. One of those was a full scholarship offer from Southern Mississippi, which Sims wanted to accept. But his father had grown up in the Church of Christ and wanted Sims to attend a Christian college.
“I went up to OC with my parents, to look at the school, and honestly, I didn’t like it,” Sims said. “But my dad thought it would be better for me to get further away from home and go to a Christian school. I told my dad he had never led me wrong before, so I came to OC. Looking back, I am so glad I did.”
It was at OC where he met his wife, Jeanetta (Davis) Sims, a former OC basketball player who now is a professor at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, and developed his sprinting ability to its fullest.
Sims had always run the shorter 100- and 200-meter sprints in high school, but Heath noticed that Sims’ technique – an average start, followed by explosive acceleration past other runners – would lend itself well to the 400 meters, so he stretched Sims and had him run all three events.
OC men’s golf coach David Lynn was Sims’ teammate on the Eagles’ track team and said it was fun to watch Sims run the 400, even if it wasn’t his preferred event.
“He was just a phenomenal talent and really untapped when he came to OC,” Lynn said. “He was amazing to train with and amazing to watch run at track meets. He had so much God-given talent and you could just see it. If he had run the 400 before college, it wasn’t very many times. But his body and his speed were just so perfectly matched for that race. He could run that first 200 meters pretty lackadaisical, then just crush the last 200 and pass everybody.
“He could pretty much do whatever he put his mind to on the track. It was pretty impressive.”
Sims excelled in the 400, just as he did in the other races. He set the still-standing school record in the indoor 400 with a 48.09-second clocking in 1996, one year after he set the indoor 200 mark of 21.72. He’s one of only three OC men’s track and field athletes – along with Jim Neugent and Silas Kisorio – to hold at least three school records in individual events.
Sims also starred in the classroom. In 1996, he was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-America third-team list and as an Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar by Black Issues in Higher Education. He credits numerous OC professors – including Don Leftwich, Richard Greenhaw and Ralph DeBoard – with helping him grow academically.
More than his records, Sims is proud of the fact that he raced clean – without the use of performance-enhancing drugs – unlike many other top runners of his era.
“My sophomore year I had my most success as far as medals,” Sims said. “My times got better each year, but I had better competition. A lot of times it’s the luck of the draw as far as you winning or not, but there were other competitors that came along. I wish there was drug testing then like there is now. But it is what it is. I know what I did. I know I should have won (the outdoor 200) my junior year.”
Sims had an opportunity to pursue a professional track career, but he knew that drug use had permeated the top levels of the sport. Sims is friends with Maurice Greene, a former world record holder in the outdoor 100 meters and the 2000 Olympic champion in the event. He offered Sims a chance to train with him in the mid 1990s, but Sims passed.
“He told me all about the athletes who were on drugs,” Sims said. “Long story short, I knew all those athletes were taking stuff and I didn’t want to go down that route.”
Sims instead took his computer science degree he earned from OC and landed a job with Oklahoma City-based Fleming Foods as a computer programmer. He later sent a resume to the FBI, hoping to land a job with that federal agency, and eventually did so. For the last 17 years, he’s worked as an information technology specialist for the FBI in Oklahoma City.
“I don’t think you could find a better student-athlete than Damon, who was a Christian who did what was right and always brought honor and respect to the school and his team and himself in all his competitions,” Heath said. “He was an outstanding student and went on to an outstanding career. You don’t often get those kind of student-athletes who are the total package of what you would hope for.”