Paul Valencia: Track has event for all athletes

Commentary: Paul Valencia

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

Published:

 

It was only his second official race at this particular distance, and when it was over, Hudson's Bay freshman Cristian Velez was exhausted.

"I wasn't ready for that," he said. "I felt like I was going to run out of breath before the race."

So, he didn't win. That's no big deal. He was out there, competing. A freshman not afraid to test himself against older athletes.

This has nothing to do with wins and losses. Not yet, anyway. This is about beginnings. Track and field is full of beginnings, full of promise.

Want to earn a varsity letter as a freshman? Go out for track and field. There is no guarantee that you will earn that letter, but I promise there is a coach at your school willing to find a spot for you to shine as long as you are willing to put in the time.

Perhaps you do not believe you can run fast. Fine, try throwing something far. Or jumping high. Or long. There are so many events in track and field, there is something for everyone.

This past weekend at the Tiger Invite, which featured 18 teams, I found three freshmen at the beginnings of their high school careers, yet all at different stages of success.

Velez is a hurdler for Hudson's Bay and had just finished the grueling 300-meter race when I caught up to him.

"I can't feel my arms," he said.

Wait, what? Did you crawl the entire race?

"I have to pump them so much," he said.

Oh, I see. Can you tell I've never tried such a feat? Sprinting 300 meters is hard enough for some of us. Jumping over obstacles at the same time? That's just crazy.

But this is what Velez wants to excel at for the Eagles. He said he is hoping to break the freshman record, and despite all appearances to the contrary when he completed his run, he said he loves the exercise associated with the sport.

Of the 33 who competed in the event, Velez finished 22nd. It is a work in progress, but he is out there doing the work.

Meanwhile, another Bay freshman hurdler is already being compared to a school legend by her coach. Erykah Weems finished fourth in the 100 hurdles and seventh in the 300. It was 10 years ago this spring when hurdler Sarah Jackson of Hudson's Bay won the 100 and 300 state championships.

Weems is not putting that kind of pressure on herself. However, her goal is to make it to state this year.

Like Velez, she appreciates the workouts she gets while training for her sport.

"I thought it would be fun to do, and something scary," she said of the hurdles. "People told me it was scary, but to me it's a natural thing."

Might want to get used to her name.

Another freshman already has made a name for himself. Bailey King of Union has known track and field was going to be his sport for a few years now. Already a regular at the Concordia Throw Center with coach Mac Wilkins, King finished second in the discus Saturday. Last summer, he finished third in a national competition for 13- and 14-year-olds. The 2020 Olympic Games are on his mind.

He is already known, but not by everyone, of course. King said he smiled when he overheard others Saturday at the Tiger Invite talking about "the freshman who throws 146 feet."

For King, the sport is not all about personal records and national and international competition. Simply put, it is fun.

"It's competitive, but you get to talk to your friends. You can socialize and compete at the same time," King said. "The meet takes hours, and you have time to kill between events."

There is a place for all would-be athletes in track and field. All skill levels are welcome. Somehow, some way, a coach will find a niche for you.

In the meantime, you can meet some really interesting people with stories to tell.

Paul Valencia covers high school sports for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4557 or e-mail at paul.valencia@columbian.com. Follow him on twitter 360paulv.