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PSJA ISD students impress at the New Balance Outdoor Race Walking Championships in North Carolina

Congratulations to PSJA T. Jefferson T-STEM ECHS student Amberly Melendez, Matias Serna from San Juan MS and Jonathon Aguilar from Alamo Middle School.

Written by South Texas Walking Club Coach AC Jaime

“Way to go Amberly. At your age, I walked 7:48. Can’t wait to watch you develop,” wrote USA Olympian Maria Michta in a text message sent to PSJA Thomas Jefferson T-STEM Early College HS student Amberly Melendez immediately after the 2013 New Balance Outdoor Race Walk Championship race held in Greensboro, North Carolina. Amberly, had just missed breaking the existing New Balance Outdoor High School Junior One Mile Race Walk record.

Breaking the old meet record of 7:47 set in 2010 by Maite Moscoso of Florida was not going to be an easy task for Amberly. She seemed to be in trouble from the beginning of the race as she jumped behind the two leaders at the sound of the gun, but soon found herself in fourth place by the time they went around the first 100 meter mark, in seventh place at the 200 meter mark, in eighth place at the 300 meter mark and finally in ninth place at the end of the first lap. She completed her first lap at 1:59, just one second over her desired 1:58 lap. She was walking a smart race by refusing the urge to walk faster at this point and taking the chance of burning out early. She made up her mind to stay within the plan given by her Coach, A.C. Jaime, at a 1:58 minute pace for the first three laps just as she does back home with her teammates.

Some of the girls started slowing down on the second lap and Amberly began to reel them in one at a time just as, Maite and many of the top American girls have done in the past. She soon found herself back in eighth place at the 100 meter mark of the 2nd lap, in seventh place at the 200 meter mark, in sixth place at the 300 meter mark and in fifth place at the 200 meter mark of the 3rd lap. Amberly may have appeared to be ambitious to some as she then went around Holly Lindoe and Kristi Licursi, two of the top experienced American High School race walkers, at the 300 meter mark of the third lap but Amberly was only staying at her predetermined pace.

Amberly was one of only two high school freshmen participating at this race and found herself battling for an All-American honor among the top four high school seniors and one junior. Others participating among the 32 high school girls included seven sophomores, fourteen juniors and nine seniors.

She finished her third lap on pace and what she would do on her last lap was up to her, but knowing that seniors Holly and Kristi were on her heals, she decided to slightly pick up her pace and nearly got away with it but began to feel light headed 140 meters away from the finish line. She had no inkling that she was on schedule to set a new freshmen record but she nevertheless kept walking as fast as she could. She slowed down and started weaving about 30 meters from the finish line and Holly and Kristi were then able to go around her to finish in third and fourth place respectively behind 1st & 2nd place senior and junior winners Annica Penn and Monika Farmer. Amberly managed to cross the finish line one second behind in fifth place, but immediately collapsed and had to be assisted off the track. Her tenacity helped her set a new PR of nine seconds, earn an All-American honor but failed to break the old freshmen record by three seconds.

The race was very exciting and especially since the very experienced and knowledgeable announcer, Ian Whatley of South Carolina, kept referring to Amberly as the freshmen girl since it became apparent that not many freshmen girls battle it out with the top juniors and seniors.

The boys race was just as exciting as the girls race. Matias Serna of San Juan Middle School and Jonathon Aguilar of Alamo Middle School were also constantly acknowledged by the announcer as the 8th graders since they too, like Amberly, did extremely well. Their predetermined pace was 1:54 per lap as they generally do in practice with last year’s meet winner and club team mate, Geraldo Flores student at PSJA Southwest Early College High School.

Jonathon did not only appear to be ambitious, he was. He started in 9th place and gradually started to reel in the upper classmen without any hesitation while Matias settled in last place for the entire first lap. Jonathon found himself in 7th place at the first 200 meter mark, 5th place at the 300 meter mark and settled down in 4th place right behind the 2nd and 3rd place walkers by the 200 meter mark of the 2nd lap.

Matias had walked his first lap at their predetermined pace of 1:54 while Jonathan had walked his three seconds faster. Matias then started picking up his pace gradually and found himself in 9th place at the 100 meter mark of the 2nd lap, in 5th place at the 300 meter mark and then gradually went around Jonathon to take over the 4th place position while Jonathon fell back to 5th place at the end of the third lap. Matias lap pace had gone from 1:54 to 1:52 and then 1:50 on the 3rd lap while Jonathon had gone from 1:51 to 1:54 and then 2:02. They were to do as best they could on the fourth lap.

Matias was able to keep his pace and went around senior Ben Kates of Maine 200 meters from the finish line to finish in 3rd place behind junior and sophomore 1st & 2nd place winners Bard Tyler and Spencer Dunn of Maine while Jonathon finished in 5th place earning All-American status with the big boys. Matias had a PR of four seconds finishing with a time of 7:33 while Jonathon’s time was 7:46. “It’s crazy, you all being just 8th graders,” said Ben after the race.

The two boys were constantly referred to, with much affection, as the 8th graders as they moved around the upper classmen which included one freshman, two sophomores, five juniors and one senior. Matias and Jonathon are now looking forward to next year's race where they hope to better the standing record of 7:07 set in 2005 by former South Texas Walking Club member Roberto Vergara. Roberto set eight National Junior records while becoming a seventeen time high school All-American and eventually a collegiate race walking star.

Pictured (from left) - Matias Serna, Amberly Melendez, Jonathon Aguilar and Coach AC Jaime.