Former Coppin track star survives shooting, excels again

Dale Dunn brought his last year of eligibility to Southern Miss.

  • Dale Dunn, shooting victim and former Coppin State and Southern Mississippi track star, tells his story at Orange Park, near his apartment in East Orange, NJ.
Dale Dunn, shooting victim and former Coppin State and Southern… (Steve Hockstein, For The…)
July 20, 2013|By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

Dale Dunn strode into Kevin Ondrasek's office at the University of Southern Mississippi with an air of determination. A graduate student with one more year of NCAA eligibility, Dunn told the first-year assistant track coach he had unfinished business.

Ondrasek was intrigued. Dunn was clearly a cut above the other students who had meandered in, looking for walk-on spots. He was an academic All-America sprinter who had attended Coppin State University on a full athletic scholarship.

What the coach didn't know was that it was a wonder Dunn could walk at all.

When Dunn left, Ondrasek entered his name into a search engine and learned he was just months removed from a Baltimore shooting that nearly took his life.

Ondrasek agreed to train Dunn for the forthcoming season. They resolved to take it slow. Still, the results would astonish even the friends who witnessed Dunn's remarkable recovery after a bullet fired during an attempted robbery rattled around his body.

For those who saw Dunn eating and breathing with the help of medical equipment at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, it was hard to imagine that he would ever compete again.

"Our concern that night was, 'Is this young man going to live, and if he was going to live, what kind of quality of life would he have after an incident like this?'" Coppin State athletic director Derrick Ramsey said.

The shooting

Dunn came to Coppin's West Baltimore campus as a 21-year-old freshman and considered it a "refuge, my haven" after surviving his youth in Spanish Town, an area violent even for Jamaica.

"It wasn't any Beverly Hills," he said dryly. While he attended a prestigious Jamaican school, many of his friends died or ended up in jail.

In hindsight, he let his guard down in Baltimore.

On Oct. 26, 2010, Dunn was on the phone and walking through the athletic fields at Frederick Douglass High School, a cut-through to his house from a grocery store at Mondawmin Mall. He had seen the three attackers coming, but tried not to let his suspicions get the best of him.

"One of them saw me and pointed to my direction, and then all three of them started walking toward me," Dunn recalled. "I didn't want to run. They could have just been lost."

One man grabbed his arms, and the others pulled him down to the ground. One took his wallet and ran off. Another took his phone and also fled. The last one took his watch.

Dunn was a sprinter, but he wasn't running away from this confrontation. With two of the attackers gone, Dunn decided that he could get his watch back. He took the man to the ground.

But the man pulled a gun and pointed it upward at Dunn, who twisted his body to the side just as the robber pulled the trigger.

His first feeling was shock: Did I really just get shot? he wondered. There was a burning sensation, and his right ear was ringing — loudly. Shake it off, he thought.

Then he collapsed, touched his chest and felt the blood on his fingers. He got back up.

If he collapsed again, it would be for the last time, he thought. His mind wandered. Who would find his body? Maybe kids going to school the next morning. He'd be a stereotype: another black man dead on the Baltimore streets.

In his estimation, it took 10 to 15 minutes to make it that next half-mile. There was nobody outside, no cars. He staggered down the street, up six brick steps to the porch of the home he shared with friends, who had the television on loud while watching a football game. He knocked, and knocked, and knocked.

One of Dunn's roommates finally answered. The roommate didn't believe his story until he saw the blood, Dunn recalls. Rather than call 911 and wait for an ambulance, the friend loaded him into a car and drove to the hospital.

At the hospital

Steve Delice took Dunn under his wing at Coppin, where they were both members of the track team. After graduating early from high school in Jamaica at age 15, Dunn had become listless, a "highly educated bum," as he puts it. He played basketball and computer games for two years before being pulled by his father to Staten Island.

There, he struggled to find purpose, working in construction until an uncle pushed him to resume running. At the Empire State Games in 2007, he beat an All-American. Delice took notice and worked to get him to Coppin, where they developed a friendly rivalry.

"I'm going to surpass you in every way, Steve," Dunn would say with a grin. Athletically gifted, exceedingly smart and blessed with a tremendous work ethic, Dunn was making good on the promise.

Now Delice was in the hospital awaiting word on whether Dunn would survive a shooting. It made no sense.

"He's not the type who would go looking for trouble," Delice said. "I couldn't rationalize it in any way, at all."

Ramsey, the athletic director, rushed to the hospital after getting a phone call. He reached out to Dunn's parents and started working with the Jamaican Embassy on arrangements to get his mother to Baltimore.

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