Trae Proctor is a dual-sport threat, having dominated in both Track & Field and BMX racing during his athletic career. While running Division I track for the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), Proctor was a seven-time America East Conference champion in the hurdles and made two NCAA Regional appearances. While racing bikes, Proctor won countless amateur races, including two national championships and four world championships, and eventually reached professional status.
Trae discusses his experiences with both sports, including how he started, motivations, successes, and challenges.
Q. How did you start racing bikes?
A. I started racing bicycles when I was 6 years old. My cousin went out to the track a few times and my aunt was like, “Hey, you should get Trae into it.” From that point on, we went with a K-Mart or Walmart bike, something like that. It was bigger than me. We went to the track and I couldn’t even make it around, but I liked it. After that my parents bought me a race bike. So that’s how I started.
Q. How did you start running track?
A. My family has been in track, that’s just what they did. I guess because I was doing BMX and stuff I didn’t do track growing up. I dipped in it occasionally whenever my grandparents just wanted to take me to a track meet. But I didn’t really get into it until my freshman year of high school.
I remember I stopped racing bicycles because at the time you couldn’t get a scholarship for that and I was missing like 30-something days of school a year.
I was sitting outside my house playing basketball and my dad was like, “You need to figure out what you’re going to do. Are you gonna go to college? You gonna go to the military? What are you good at?” And I was like, “Um…basketball?” He was like, “How can you say you’re good at basketball and you never even played basketball before?” I liked it, but I sucked. I also tried to play football, but at the time I was so small. I didn’t have a growth spurt until I was going into my junior year.
I grew up wrestling when it was offseason for BMX and I was on varsity as a freshman. That was a sport I thought I’d be good at in high school because I was really good as a kid, but they made me cut so much weight that I would go to the matches and be so weak.
So track started because I had nothing else to do. My uncle, who I looked up to as my older brother, went to Towson University on a track scholarship and did hurdles. So I taught myself how to do hurdles my sophomore year of high school.
I didn’t have a hurdle coach. I put a hurdle in the grass at my high school and just kept making myself go over it. YouTube wasn’t even big back then, but I was watching YouTube videos trying to figure out how to go over these hurdles. Then my uncle used to come out and help me. And I ended up getting it down.
That’s how that started. I was basically inspired by my uncle. I just wanted to be like him. And I wanted to find a way to school (scholarship).
Q. Talk about your journey with running track.
A. In high school I ran track my last two years. I didn’t know where I would go to school until my senior year after our first couple of track meets. The first meet of the year I came out and was ranked top ten in the country. Schools were contacting me asking, “Is this a real time?!” I was ranked #1 in the state (Maryland) and I ended up winning States my senior year for indoor.
I had North Carolina and all these big schools talking to me, but they had done all their recruiting and said that they already spent all the money for my class. Then UMBC was like, “Hey, we’re gonna offer you this (full).” So I signed.
In college, I came in my freshman year and did the typical freshman thing: suck your freshman year and get involved in all the activities you shouldn’t do as an athlete. Grades were terrible. My parents didn’t trust me and didn’t even want me to go back to college because they didn’t think that I was dedicated enough. And I got my scholarship taken.
Then I had my car taken, so I was only able to drive to work. So all the money I made that summer I used to pay for my housing or meal plan because I got them taken. I also got my book scholarship taken, so I was just getting tuition. So I made the money, saved it, and paid for myself to go back to school the next semester.
I went from not making finals at conferences my freshman year to winning conferences for both indoor and outdoor my sophomore year. And I qualified for more invitational meets than the year before.
I progressively got faster each season because I continuously had people saying, “You’re not gonna do this; You’re not gonna do that.” They always had somebody new who was going to come in and “beat me.” And I just didn’t want anyone in our school or anyone in our conference to ever touch me. So they fueled it. Everybody was like, “So and so is going to beat you this year.” I was just like, “ How come y’all wanna see me fail?” It just made me so motivated. And my friends who graduated before me always pushed me and told me to keep my head up.
So my junior year, I won conferences again for indoor. Then I redshirted (sat out) my outdoor season due to a hamstring issue. It also allowed me to catch up on schoolwork because I was still trying to dig myself out of a hole from my freshman year.
Then when it was time for me to come back for my senior year, I broke the school record. I ran 7.87 and was ranked 30-something in the country, and just a couple years before I was 500-and-something. I just kept pushing and my head coach and hurdle coach were always there supporting.
Then I had to run outdoor season for the first time in a year and it was scary because I was going from a 60-meter race and adding another half to it. I went out there and was running average times, like slower than I ran my sophomore year. But by the end of the year I picked it up and won conferences again and qualified for NCAA Regional’s, which only takes top 48 in each event.
Then my last year, I broke the school record 4 times and was ranked 19th in the east and about 30th in the country. I made it to Regionals and was ranked high going into that meet. But I guess school and relationships stressed me out and my focus going into those last three meets wasn’t what it had been that whole year. So at Regionals, I made it to the finals, but didn’t run
But I left college a 7-time conference champion, placed at IC4A’s (Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletes of America) and made it to NCAA Regionals twice. I ended up running at Penn Relays twice and was on TV for Championship of America Finals for hurdles.
Q. Explain your journey with BMX.
A. When I was younger, I was a two-time national champion and 4-time world champion. But in the section that I was racing in last, I never won a title.
When I stopped, throughout high school and college, I always kept track of what was going on in the sport. I guess I just missed it and I always kept it close to my heart. I remember once when I was 15, my dad took me to a track and I was still fast, but I just never went again. When I was in college, I had a bike that I bought and I would go to the track right by the school (UMBC) and I used to always want to secretly race BMX and run track at the same time. But I just didn’t have the time or the money.
When I graduated, I was like, “I’m gonna do it.” I actually planned on running track professionally, but then…I bought a bike. I went to the track and by the end of the first week of riding a team came out and saw me and said they wanted to sponsor me.
I raced about nine races and won eight of them. Then one of my good friends asked me if I wanted to go to the Olympic Training Center and I said yeah. I was living where Olympians lived and it was a really good opportunity.
Then I ended up parting ways with the guy that had helped me and went to a team that sponsored me when I was young. They had me live out in California and I was out there racing. I was one of the hottest names in the sport and was up for the #1 amateur title after only racing for less than half the season.
I ended up hurting myself and didn’t even make the finals to go for the title. I crashed and hurt my hip a little bit, so the next day when it was time to race for the actual title, I didn’t even make the main event because I guess I was hurting. I cried because for 10 years I wanted another shot to race my bike and I basically did exactly what I did when I was 14: crashed and didn’t even make it to the main event.
That was my last amateur race and then I turned professional. I raced my first pro race on my birthday and that was it. I just stopped because I wanted to focus on my career. And I felt like I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish. I came back into a sport and I loved it and had fun with it. I had people doubting me, saying I would never be as good as what I was. And I was better than what I was. I walked away and I’m content with how I left it.
Q. Why do you think you were able to be so good at both sports?
A. Hard work, dedication, and a little bit of luck. I feel like my build and athleticism played a part. Some people have certain skills that make them different or they’re just an athletic freak. I feel like I was a mixture. And I was a learner of the sports and wanted to be the best.
Q. Did you ever think you would do BMX again after you got into track for so long?
A. I wanted to, but I just didn’t think that I was gonna be good (at BMX). When I realized I was actually alright, that’s when I went after it. I think I went after it a lot more because people doubted me. So when the time came, I ran with it.
Q. Do you think that you will ever go back to doing either one at this point?
A. I think about it all the time. Especially now that it’s about to be the Olympics. I definitely miss it. The same with BMX because it’s also in the Olympics and the season is going on. I’m always like “I can still do it.” But I don’t know. I definitely need a hobby because now I don’t have one. It’s kind of boring; I just go to the gym.
It depends on how my life is when I get out of the next chapter of my life in the NAVY. I can see myself doing something, I just don’t know which one.
I’m leaning more toward the bikes. It’s more natural for me. Track was so hard for me to be good at. I’m not naturally that fast. I had to make my form nearly perfect to keep up with people. So because my form was so good, I was able to be fast. But BMX is what I’ve done since I was 6 years old, so it’s just natural.
Q. What was your favorite part of running track?
A. My favorite part of running track was bonding with my coach. We had a very special bond. And being able to be around teammates and grow with people.
Q. What was your favorite part of BMX?
A. I’m just very proud of being MIA (missing in action) from a sport for 10 years and coming back and causing havoc. That was really cool. And just being given opportunities like going to the Olympic Training Center; being able to travel and having people that paid for me to live where I was living and provide the resources I needed to be good. I appreciate all of those people.
Q. Which one did you enjoy more?
A. I think it’s even because with both, I was basically able to do the same things. I was able to showcase my individual talents and show all the hard work that I put in to get to where I was.