Before the class of 2019 makes their final farewells to high school cross country and track and field, we want to give everyone a chance to salute them one more time! FLRunners invites all seniors to tell their stories from the past four years.
What was your most memorable race/throw/jump/vault/moment?
I have had so many great race experiences throughout my high school career it's honestly really hard to narrow it down to just one race, but as for this season I definitely have to say the 1600m at Florida relays was one to remember. I had gone into the race seeded 16th with a 4:22 from the Sam burley hall of fame invitational. This would only be my 3rd race of the year and I got the feeling that something really big was going to happen. I knew a PR was coming I just didn't know how much of a jump I was going to make. I remember calling my mentor and (former) school record holder in the mile Eddie Romero and telling him that I was going to blast his record of 4:19.81. Fast forward to the race and the gun goes off.. I am pretty conservative when it comes to racing and ended up in second to last place through the first lap but nevertheless split a 1:03.24 for the first lap. The next lap slowed up a bit and I went through 800 at 2:10.07 which had been the fastest I had ever crossed the first half of my race but ended up still being at the very back of the pack. At this point in the race all I could think was, "just get through 1200, just get through 1200..." and when I finally did I saw the clock hit 3:15 and a sudden boost of adrenaline went coursing through my veins and i kicked from the 400 going from 14th place to 4th with 100m left to go. I definitely paid the price for making my move a bit too early as I got caught by about 4 people the last 50 meters and the last 100 took 17 seconds to finish but it was all worth it when I saw 4:16 next to my name on the scoreboard! All I could feel was pure joy knowing that I finally claimed the school record and smashed my previous PR by over 6 seconds. I had only just started running the 1600 seriously my junior year at state and to come so far in such a short amount of time was overwhelming. You couldn't get me to run the mile my freshman or sophomore year for a million dollars so it was crazy how I ended up liking it more over the 800 my senior year.
Who would you consider your biggest competition over your four years?
I wouldn't call it my biggest competition over my four years, but I'd call it a barrier that was preventing me from getting to my fullest potential. That was definitely my aspirations of staying a dual sport athlete for all four years of my high school career and potentially as a collegiate athlete. Not running cross country as a mid-distance runner in track doesn't sound like they go together. It was really hurting me since all of the base mileage I was missing out on in the summer had to be condensed into 2 months of my track training. It wasn't too long ago when I made the decision after the end of football season my junior year to stop playing football and go 100 percent all in to running. Honestly, the transition in the summer was rough going from football conditioning to cross country training averaging about 50-60 miles per week. It just didn't feel right, I had tried to make the decision two years prior after my sophomore year and something just brought me back out to the football field every time. I was having withdrawals of getting that adrenaline rush after making a big hit or catching a book and taking it to the crib. It didn't make sense at first. I'd wake up in the summer to do my daily run and absolutely dread every second of every run. But over time I got out of that slump naturally around late July of my senior year and really started enjoying running again.
What was your greatest accomplishment?
My greatest accomplishment was definitely getting the school record in the 1600 previously held by my coach. Although a close second was back in my junior year at the BCAA championships in the 800 when I closed the last 300 really hard and broke my previous pr of 1:57.3 obtaining a pr of 1:54.87.
Who would you consider your biggest role model over your four years competing?
Well before he was my coach, Edward Romero was a name I saw all over the team records in Milesplit for Flanagan and a name I had been compared to by coach cook (my coach at the time). We were both seen as talented young athletes with extremely bright futures. He was basically a legend to every distance runner that had come through Flanagan after him. I had spoken to him one time my freshman year and could only imagine getting to the level he was at when he ran for Flanagan. He was the true definition of hard work when it comes to this sport. I cannot thank him enough for putting up with me when I was an immature sophomore who was angry at the world for absolutely no reason at all. He did whatever it took to be the best coach he could be. It has truly been a pleasure to be able to call him not only a great coach but also a great friend. The only thing I might not have picked up from him is his frat boy look and the Sperry's he wears 24/7 no matter the occasion; probably for the better anyway.
If you could do it all over again what would you change about your running or field career in high school?
Although I probably would have wanted to start cross country a year earlier I wouldn't change a thing, I think everything worked out the way it was supposed to.
What were the most difficult obstacles you had to overcome? How did you overcome them?
The most difficult obstacle I had to overcome was definitely not having a coach for all of senior year cross country season and having to guess times during workouts since I didn't really know where my fitness level was at as I had never ran a 5k before in my life. I had a bit of help from my old coach in making a training plan but I basically had to become self coached and also become somewhat of a coach to my teammate. There were so many times where I just didn't know if I was doing the right thing or hitting the right times during a workout and it almost drove me insane. The thing most people do not realize about running is that it requires so much more mental strength than almost any other sport there is. Not having a knowledgeable coach to reassure me and be by my side when I was going through tough times like a bad race or a bad workout really affected me a lot more than I thought it would. A lot of the time was spent overthinking and doubting myself on my abilities and what I could achieve. My brain would have countless thoughts that consisted of, "This isn't track this isn't your sport you're not gonna make it to states and you're not gonna break 17". Positive thinking surely got the job done at the end of the day though. I stayed strong and qualified for states and ran a personal best of 16:49 which might not sound like much but it meant a hell of a lot with everything I dealt with this year in my only season running cross. Another problem I encountered was 3 days out from track regionals I pulled my hamstring on the final 200 rep of an unplanned workout I wasn't suppose to do. It was extremely frustrating not being able to kick like how I usually do and almost dropped out of the 800 but I ended up pushing through and qualifying for both of my events even though my times were hampered from my recent injury. States didn't go how I imagined it would but everything happens for a reason.
What will you miss the most?
When I first looked at this question I immediately thought of all of the memories and friendships that have been created from being apart of the high school running community. I am definitely going to miss all of the runs and fun moments after practice that occurred on a daily basis. There was truly never a dull moment being on Flanagan's track team and if you were on the team from 2016-2019 you definitely know what I'm talking about. I'm also going to miss my freshman year which consisted of skipping a couple of easy days to go on "coffee runs" when we didn't feel like running and carrying through the tradition of leading all of the new distance runners on the team through a place we call narnia. Lastly, I am definitely going to miss training and racing with my best friend and brother Joseph Montes who is always by my side and will forever be remembered together as the best duo to come through Flanagan's doors.
What advice would you give to younger athletes?
Enjoy every second and every moment while you can because these 4 years of your life do not last forever. Try not to beat yourself up too much whenever you have a bad race because you can't do anything about it after the fact. Take those races as learning moments, they will still be there when you need them for motivation. This next piece of advice means a lot to me because it helped me race a lot better when I was feeling a bit under pressure. To simply put it into words, just always have fun with it and always smile. If you're not having fun doing what you love and always looking at running like a chore then is this really your passion?
What influence has your coach had with respect to your performance and overall life goals?
Like I stated previously, I was serious about 70% of the time when it came to racing or even practice as a freshman and sophomore. Coach Eddie really helped me open up and mature as an individual not only just in a runners perspective but in life as well. He really showed me how to have fun with everything I do which I feel was a huge difference maker for me on the track. Another coach who has impacted my life in a huge way is coach Benny Cook. I still remember the day he switched me from the 400 group to the distance group and immediately shut down all of my hopes of being a 400/800 guy. He knew how frustrated and reluctant I was to run that first workout so he pulled me to the side and told me a couple of things. The one thing I really remember him telling me was that I was a special kind of talent that he himself had only seen 3 other times in his 16+ years coaching at Flanagan. One of those cases being Paul cross: an amazing runner who ran 1:49 in high school for 800 meters, Sebastian Castillo a 15:27 XC guy and 4:22 miler, and of course Eddie Romero. Having a coach of his caliber pull me aside and compare me to all of those great names really helped me trust the training and was a stepping stone that helped me transition into the athlete I am today! Without these coaches in my life I am not sure if I would have kept on pursuing running.
What are your post-high school or college plans?
I will be attending Charleston southern university for all of my collegiate running career. Go bucs!
Who would you like to say 'thank you' to?
I'd like to say a special thank you to god, my parents, my two big brothers, all of my teammates- especially the dynamic trio, and all of my coaches: Coach Cunningham, Coach Ryan, Coach Carter, Coach Elliott etc. You know who you are! I'd also like to thank Coach Stintzi for giving me an opportunity and believing in my athletic ability more so than any other college I had spoken to during the recruiting process, it is truly a blessing to be apart of this team.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
My FOOOT (inside joke)