Boris Berian’s unlikely story from fry cook to track star continued on Saturday night, when he won gold in the 800-meter race at the IAAF world indoor championships in Portland, Ore. Berian, 23, broke out to a blistering pace — so fast the broadcasters questioned whether he’d be able to hold on — and stayed clear of the field, winning in 1 minute 45.83 seconds.

Thanks to his first-place finish at the U.S. indoor championship earlier this month, his success Saturday night was not completely unpredictable. But as of a year ago, any success for Berian, let alone to the levels he is experiencing it now, would have required a crystal ball to predict.

In the summer of 2014, Berian, who according to a profile in Runner’s World, had been struggling academically, dropped out of Adams State University in Colorado. But while there he had displayed the raw talent that the sport demanded for success.

“He’s the most talented individual I’ve ever coached,” Adams State’s Damon Martin, who has coached 26 national championship team, told the Denver Post last July. “He can not only make the Olympics but be a medalist.”

He moved back to Colorado Spring and was living on a friend’s couch, working at McDonald’s by day and training by night.

“I wondered what happened to Boris,” Carlos Handler, a well-known coach within track circles, said to the Denver Post. “I heard of him at Adams State, and then he just disappeared.”

And then Handler offered Berian a chance. Berian, realizing he wasn’t getting faster training on his own, moved to Big Bear, Calif., on Dec. 1, 2014, and started training with Handler and the Big Bear Track Club.

“He was asking what happened to me,” Berian said to Runner’s World. “I told him the situation and he invited me to join the [Big Bear] track team. I decided it would be dumb not to. I thought, ‘Heck yeah, this will be fun.’”

The training intensified immediately. Not long after that, the results followed: He was running 1:48.53 in February, 1:45.3 in May and 1:43.34 by July.

Now, he’s reaping the rewards. According to Runner’s World, Saturday night’s gold medal came alongside a $40,000 payday, a far cry from flipping burgers for making minimum wage.