Modest track, superior runner


POSTED: Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The track's dirt has become slightly muddy with the morning sprinkling.

The oval could hold three, maybe four, lanes if the chalk lines could survive the constant pounding of the teenagers' high-priced sneakers.

The corners are even narrower, thanks to the overgrowth of grass that has steadily encroached upon the cement borders and trespassed onto what should be the track's unmolested dirt.

One lap is a mere 300 meters, 100 meters shy of regulation.

This setting is the training ground for Hawaii's fastest high school athlete.

Damien senior Jonathan Padron is the reigning state champion in the 100-meter dash, winning last year in 10.97 seconds.

On Saturday, he bettered his time at the 'Iolani meet, his 10.80 matching the state-meet record by St. Anthony's Shane Victorino, now the Philadelphia Phillies' center fielder.

Padron managed to get faster despite the modest surroundings in which he trains every afternoon.

“;It's difficult, but it pushes you more to be better since you have less to work with than others,”; Padron said. “;You have to get better with what you have.”;

Without a cushy, 400-meter, all-weather surface track to run on every practice, Padron can't work on his starts out of the blocks. The heavy blocks tear up the dirt track, and it's not like pushing off in the dirt is similar to pushing off on a regular track anyway.

He can't do much speed work, since the finishing stretch of Damien's only 100-meter straightaway is covered with grass and an old rusted tractor. His 4x100 relay team, which finished third in the state last year with Padron as the anchor, struggles with practicing its handoffs since the 300-meter track's curves and straightaways are so different from a regulation-length track.

Padron can't even practice in the running spikes he uses at meets. Instead, he runs most days in cross-trainers.

But what Padron does have is “;natural talent,”; according to his coach Eddie Klaneski. At 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, Padron is a powerful runner whose chiseled arms pump his muscular stride down the track.

“;Physically, he's a big, strong kid,”; said Klaneski, a former UH football star. “;He just started working out this year with lifting weights, but he's been that size since he was a freshman. ... He's a big, strong kid. He just naturally has strong muscles. He's just naturally talented, gifted with what he has. And he just works hard.”;

Padron also finished second in the 200 at last year's state meet, the first time he has competed in that distance in the state championships. He crossed the finish line in 22.42 seconds, just .02 seconds behind Waimea junior Moses Fierro.

This year, Padron is flirting with potentially running the 400 as well, putting him in position to possibly sweep the 100, 200 and 400 at May's state meet at Kamehameha.

He is also looking to run track in college. Sen. Daniel Akaka nominated Padron for the U.S. Military Academy. The Damien senior has yet to hear from West Point or his top two choices, USC and Occidental.

But with a 3.86 cumulative grade-point average and extracurricular activities, like being one of the few chosen to carry St. Damien's relic down the path to Kalaupapa on Molokai after the canonization, it's likely this well-spoken, gregarious sprinter will have his pick of colleges.

Until then, Padron will be dutifully training on Damien's humble dirt track, aiming to defend his title as the state's fastest runner.

“;I just have to work with what I've got over here,”; he said with a smile. “;I guess it's worked so far.”;