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Barstow's Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda competes in a relay.

Competing at the Junior Olympics

Garcia-Castaneda going for the gold

BARSTOW • While his hometown sizzles in the desert sun, one local athlete is spending the next week beating the heat and competing on the other side of the country.

The 2013 Junior Olympics get underway at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro on Monday. In attendance will be 11 year-old Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda of Barstow, who will take part in three running events: the 400m, 4x400m relay, and the 4x800m relay.

It’s not the first big meet in which the young runner will compete this summer. During the last week of June, he ran in the USATF (United States of America Track & Field) Youth Jr. National Championships and brought home two medals: a gold from the 4x400m with a relay time of 4:04, and a silver in the 4x800m, with a relay time of 10:07.

It’s also not the first time at the Junior Olympics for Garcia-Castaneda. He competed last year when the event was held in Houston, Texas, and he has also run at the Hershey Track & Field Games in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

That’s a lot of experience for an 11 year-old. Garcia-Castaneda started running four years ago, with encouragement from his parents, Mario and Crystal. He was already playing football, his favorite sport, but once he took up running, it quickly pushed its way to the forefront of his interests.

“Football was his main sport, but we encouraged him to try track,” said Isaiah’s mother, Crystal. “Once he got into it, it turned out he liked it better.”

“I like football a lot, but I really like track, too. Getting to race against a lot of fast kids and getting to see different places, it’s fun,” said Isaiah. “I just wanted to see how track was, what it was like, how competitive it was.”

While there are similarities between the two sports, Garcia-Castaneda learned there are also differences.

“In football you’re part of a team; in relays you’re part of a team, but it’s different,” he said. “And in solo races there’s a lot more pressure. It’s all up to you.”

When Isaiah really started getting serious about running, his parents wanted him to get some expert guidance. They got help from Mark Hassell, who is the vice principal of Barstow Junior High School, and also a runner himself, who competed at Stanford.

“I practice five days a week, my coach gives me different workouts,” Garcia-Castaneda said. “He makes schedules, and we meet up a couple of times a week.”

Though Hassell may be responsible for some of his progress, Garcia-Castaneda has also accquired some quirks to his routine. Many athletes have superstitions they credit for playing a part in their success, and in this case, it’s the blue socks.

“He wears his lucky socks to every track meet,” said mom Crystal.

“They weren’t really lucky in the beginning, but then I noticed that when I wore them I did really good,” Isaiah said. “One day I ran the 400 without them and did really bad, so I’ve stuck with the lucky socks since.”

While running has come to play a big part in his life, Garcia-Castaneda has had to arrange the time for it. His school work still takes first priority, and he’s juggled both very well. He’s still a straight-A student, and received the Principal’s Award for the last three years. With an eye toward maybe earning a college scholarship one day, both running and studies are important.

But with school another month away, the emphasis right now is on the track. Isaiah and his dad will be in Greensboro for the next few days, where Isaiah will once again be thrown together with some of the best young athletes from all over the country at the Junior Olympics.

At this point, he just wants to see where his efforts take him.

“I just want to keep training, keep going and keep getting better, be the best I can be,” he said. “The best kids I run against are better than me now, but I like competing against them. It will make me better in the long run.”

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