TAMPA — Dentarius Locke entered this world as bowlegged as can be.
When he was 3, they put braces on his legs.
Within a year, his legs were straight.
His father, Jesse, says it was like "magic."
So the little boy ran.
He ran so fast one time in elementary school, he tripped over a chair and fell flat on his face and cried.
"I knew then I was fast," he says.
Another time, in middle school, he raced the fastest kid in school and almost won. Might have, too, if he hadn't fallen again. Scraped his knees up pretty good.
He got faster and faster.
Then, he got fastest.
Dentarius Locke, the fastest high school kid in Florida.
Today, the Chamberlain High senior runs for a state championship, to break records, "to make people go wow," he says.
Those braces seem a long time ago. He has only vague memories of them, how they made him toss and turn in bed at night. But he remembers thinking of Forrest Gump when his dad told him the story, and look what Forrest Gump did.
Run, Dentarius, run.
• • •
Last week at regionals, Locke ran 100 meters in 10.31 seconds, the fifth-fastest time in the country this year.
He ran the 200 in 20.81, No. 1 in the nation.
And he can go faster.
He has to go faster.
"People think I'm fast now, but to me, that's not good enough."
His goal is not only to win the 100 a second straight year and add the 200 (he was second in 2008) as well but to leave jaws dropped on the floor.
"I want to get out so fast the race is over right away," he says — before the competitors even lift their heads.
The question doesn't seem to be so much will Locke win his races today but rather how quickly will he win his races.
Will he break Jeff Demps' meet record of 10.37 in the 100 set in 2007? Will he best Walter Dix's meet record of 20.62 in the 200 from 2004?
"I'm going to do a 10.24 and … a 20.44," Locke tells his coach, Hansford Johnson, and he's not kidding, even if a wide smile belies a little bit of the crazy in his prediction.
It is, after all, not easy to get faster when you're already this fast.
This is Locke's world, where success is measured in tiny increments, fractions so fleeting they can't be seen by the human eye nor accurately timed by a human hand.
Hundredths of seconds.
Bats of an eyelash.
"Everything," Locke says, "has to be perfect."
And Locke, a wisp at 5 feet 7, 150 pounds, has darn near been just that.
He has won every race this high school season, including county, district and region titles. He won the Florida Relays. He has been golden, just like the medals he hopes to win one day at the Olympics.
He credits Johnson and his father.
Since transferring from Riverview to Chamberlain after his sophomore year, Locke has steadily improved his times. Johnson tweaked some things in Locke's form, devised better workouts and smoothed the edges.
"Right from the beginning," Jesse says, "you could see the difference."
And that goes for the classroom as well. At Riverview, he was foundering academically, sleeping his way toward being ineligible for track.
He moved back in with Jesse, and that changed.
The rules changed. What happened when he broke them changed.
"There were consequences for my actions, and I needed that," Locke, 19, says. "I love him. I honestly don't know if I would be here without him."
He has signed with Tennessee and in the fall will become the first member of his immediate family to attend college.
It is this that Jesse enjoys most.
"I'm very proud of him," he says. "I brag about him to my co-workers on a fairly regular basis. But I'd be greatly disappointed if he turns out to be a gold medalist in the Olympics and goes on to be a successful athlete and turns out to be a bad guy."
Jesse says his son is just a normal kid, a little hardheaded and lazy but, otherwise, typical.
He is a gracious, gregarious and grinning speedster who used to work at McDonald's before quitting to focus on track. He loves greasy food, like Philly cheesesteak sandwiches and burgers. He likes washing it all down with pink lemonade-flavored Kool-Aid.
He spends his free time on the computer or watching television. He wanted to be a professional football player once — Bucs or Falcons would have been fine, he says — but now obsesses over track.
And even the quickest kid around has chores. Thursday after practice, he went home and helped his dad rake the lawn and fill a dozen black plastic bags with leaves.
Today, he will try to run into local lore.
Those leg braces, that bruised face and those tears, the scraped knees, they seem a long time ago.
Faster and faster.
Run, Dentarius, run.