It was around 3 a.m. when Tyson Gay’s sister walked into his room at his home in Winter Gardens, Fla., to wake him. She had just received a call from her daughter: Tyson’s 15-year-old daughter, Trinity, had been shot.
Gay checked his own phone and saw all the missed calls before he called his cousin Tim who confirmed the news and added that Trinity was in the hospital, near where the shooting took place in Lexington, Kentucky.
“My brain immediately told me to get a plane ticket on the next flight to go and see her in the hospital,” Gay says. “I was in that parent mode and thought when she was all better, I was going to tell her butt about being out late. I thought that as soon as I got to Kentucky then things would be OK. I had no idea where she was hit or anything.”
About 15 minutes later, he received a call from her mother, Shoshana Boyd, who was hysterically crying on the other line. Gay knew what it meant and broke down in tears.
In the early hours of Oct. 16, 2016, a shootout broke out among four men in the parking lot of a Cook Out restaurant in Lexington. Trinity and some friends were on their way to their car to avoid the incident when police say the 15-year-old was hit by a stray bullet. A blue Ford fled the scene but was later recovered by police.
Days after, police arrested four men in the shooting. Chazarae Taylor was charged with wanton endangerment and murder. His son D’Markeo Taylor, and Lamonte Williams and Dvonta Middlebrooks were charged with wanton endangerment in the death. All four men entered not guilty pleas.
“I just couldn’t get an understanding for why this could happen,” Gay says. “It was almost impossible to believe.”
Just months before the shooting, Gay’s focus was centered on the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, as he prepared to run as part of the United States’ 4x100 meter relay team. But as the team crossed the finish line in Rio, celebrating a bronze medal finish with American flags draped on their shoulders, they were quickly brought to a halt.
Due to a bad handoff outside of the changeover zone between the first and second leg, the team was disqualified.
“Retirement crossed my mind,” says Gay, 34, of the period of time after the Olympics. “Sometimes the body doesn’t give you the times that you want. I’m late in my career. Mentally, you can get flustered. I was up and down with my decision-making. This is a sport that I love and I found it hard to hang up the spikes like that.”
Then, weeks after returning home from a disappointing Olympics, Gay received that dreadful phone call. Trinity’s death made returning to the track that much for difficult for Gay.
“It was soon after the tragedy that I texted my agent and told him I wanted to run one more season for her,” says Gay. “We’ll see how the body feels after that.”
Gay was not one to push Trinity into running, or suggest that she follow in his footsteps, so he was surprised when she told him she wanted to pursue track seriously in high school. But Trinity never felt entitled to anything on the track because of her superstar father. She wanted to make her own name, so you wouldn’t see her arms up toward the heavens at the starting line or wearing multiple heavy gold chains like her father does, says Crystal Washington, the Lafayette High track and field coach who grew up in the area, raced Tyson Gay’s older sister, Tiffany, in high school and closely followed the American record holder’s professional career.
“Our father-and-daughter relationship was one where I didn’t say too much while she was competing and just loved seeing her go out there and have some fun,” Gay says. “She did tell me that she felt a little bit of pressure when I was in the stands. I remember her saying, ‘Daddy, when you’re not there it seems like I run my best and when you’re there I think I get nervous.’ We found a cool balance.”
Trinity ran personal bests of 12.15 for the 100 meters and 25.42 in the 200 meters. Washington believes that running in college was in Trinity’s future. Trinity had once mentioned to her father that she wanted to move to Florida for her senior year to train closer to him and explore her options of racing in college. After her death, members of the Lafayette track team found their own struggle to compete in the face of tragedy.
Within two days of the shooting, close friends of Tyson and Boyd helped organize a candlelight vigil at the Lafayette High School track. Thousands of people attended the ceremony where track spikes hung on the metal fence surrounding the track. Tyson, wearing the same thick beard and gold chains that he donned before the world in Rio, made his first public comments and called for an end to gun violence.
“I don't want to read in the paper next week about another senseless killing," Tyson said that night. "It has to stop.”
That night Tyson also said that he didn’t want to continue seeing more young people falling through the cracks and getting involved in violence. It’s a message that he repeated at her funeral on October 22, when hundreds packed Southland Christian Church to honor her memory.
“I really hope that our community can come together and lead our young kids down the right path,” Gay says. “I will try my best to be the voice of that but I need your help. I need the mayor’s help. I need the police officer’s help. I need everyone’s help to allow her legacy to keep moving.”
There was talk about her smile and positive attitude.
“I believe Trinity is passing the baton,” her grandmother, Daisy Lowe, said at the ceremony. “Who is going to take it and run with it?”
As he prepared to run the 2017 outdoor season in her memory, Gay says he underwent counseling while grieving the loss, much like he’s done in recent years to deal with disappointments on the track.
“Some days you’re at practice and other days you’re not. Some days you're going through the motions. Some days you’re having a good day,” Gay says. “It’s still like that now and I just have to keep pushing as it makes you stronger. I’ve got to keep these old legs moving.”
Earlier this month, the defense attorneys for the four suspects were granted until June 30 to file motions, according to local reports. Police say Taylor created the environment that led to the deadly shooting and his attorney requested that some of the statements made by him to police be thrown out as evidence. The defense attorneys also told local media they intend to file a motion challenging the sufficiency of the indictment, as well as a motion to get separate trials for the suspects.
A trial date has not been set but could come when the hearing for the evidence suppression is held on June 30—one week after Gay competes at the U.S. Track and Field Championships in Sacramento.
Gay has yet to determine whether he and Boyd will attend any of the trial proceedings, and he and Boyd are finalizing paperwork for a foundation in Trinity’s honor. Even though Gay hasn’t run a wind-legal time in 2017—his best was a 9.94 at a low-key race in Florida with a +2.2m/s gust—he’ll be on the starting line at Hornets Stadium at the end of June.
“When the physical body is there, you have to learn how to adapt to the spirit,” Gay says. “That’s where my mind has been right now.”