Each morning, four young men from the Learning Experience School go to the track at Tropical Park to practice the 100-meter dash and the 4 x 100 relay.
The practices begin with stretching and leg exercises and then they begin to race, practicing handoffs for the relay and finishing with the 100-meter dash.
The team is coached by Daniel Cartaya, the school’s assistant development director, who hopes to have them ready in time for the Penn Relays on Apr. 28-30.
Albert Johnson (A.J.), David Rams, Robbie Bertran and Joseph Paz will be making the trip to Philadelphia, and it all started because Cartaya was trying to get Rams onto the Special Olympics Team USA.
“I was calling around to and I got in touch with Nancy Sawyer who is vice president of Special Olympics Florida. We were going around all sorts of possibilities,” he said.
He learned that it was too late to get Rams on Team USA, but loved the suggestion they try entering the Special Olympics component of the Penn Relays.
The Penn Relays are a place for the elite track and field athletes to compete. Established in 1895, it is one of the elite events in the track and field world. According to the Penn Relays website, more athletes compete at the event than compete at the Olympics.
When he contacted the Penn Relays, Cartaya realized he actually had two athletes that could enter for the 100-meter dash — Johnson is faster than Rams in that event. Since there also were slots available for the 4 x 100 relay, they submitted a team for that event as well.
“They have to qualify,” said Cristina Cartaya, the school’s executive director. “Based on times, two of our students qualified in the 100. Those two and another two qualified in the 4 x 100 relays.”
Johnson has the fastest times. Unofficially, in practice, he’s run the 100 in 12.51. His fastest Special Olympics time is 12.7 seconds.
Rams, the Miami-Dade Special Olympics Athlete of the Year, has a practice time of 12.82. His fastest Special Olympics time is 13 seconds, but his coach said he actually slipped in the race.
Paz’s fastest time is 15.12 and Bertran’s is 14.2. They qualified for the relay.
“The fastest time at the Penn Relays is 12 seconds flat,” Daniel Cartaya said. “We’ll see. With the crowd and the competition, they may run faster.”
What’s amazing is that this is only the third year of the track and field program at the school.
“We started the first year with four students going to the track and field competitions in Orlando,” Cristina Cartaya said. “Last year we took 23 medals.”
The team recently competed in the county’s Special Olympics and will be going to the statewide Special Olympics Games in Orlando.
Also amazing is that the boys don’t focus only on track and field, they have basketball first and then begin training for track and field after basketball season.
Fundraising has started to help send the team to the Penn Relays. A First Giving page is being set up for donations. Links can be found at www.TheLearningExperienceSchool.org and the Learning Experience School’s Facebook page. At the school, there will be bake sales and car washes to raise funds.