Local youth shatters regional record
Fourteen-year-old John Paden sets his sights on winning a national title in Junior Olympic Track and Field
SALEM - John Paden of Clackamas proved himself among the best young distance runners in the Northwest, earning age-group titles in two events at the Junior Olympic Northwest Region Track and Field Championships, held at Willamette University July 6-9.
Paden, who will be a freshman at Clackamas High School this fall, won regional titles in the Youth Boys (ages 13-14) 1,500-meter and 3,000-meter runs, recording times of 4:20 and 9:24 respectively.
Paden's mark in the 3,000 meters shattered a regional record that had stood since 1992, beating the old mark by a full seven seconds.
'It's hard to find a kid like John,' said Paden's coach, Julius Achon. 'To find that kind of talent at the grade school level is just very rare in this country. He reminds me a lot of myself when I was first starting out.'
Achon, a Kenyan who came to this country as a part of the NIKE Project [to bring top running coaches to the U.S.], is the NCAA record holder in the 800.
'John has a huge chance of making a college scholarship [in track and field],' said Achon. 'He has that kind of ability. I'm very sure of that. He already holds all the [age-group] records going into high school, and if he continues his [year-round] training regimen, he's only going to keep getting better.'
Earlier this year, Paden set new Sunrise school records and Willamette River League district records in the 800 (2:07.31) and 1,500 (4:20.66).
The Junior Olympic regional meet featured the top young athletes from Washington, Alaska, Western Idaho and Oregon.
Paden, who placed eighth in the nation in the 3,000 meters in the 13- to 14-year-old division as a 13-year-old, has ambitious goals.
'I want to win nationals in both the 1,500 and 3,000,' said Paden. 'It would take times of around 4:10 and 9:12, and I think I can make those times. The regional meet was run on a very slow track, so I know I can run faster.'
'I know John will do well [at the JO Nationals],' said Achon. 'But at this time, winning is probably a little unrealistic. John hasn't had the kind of competition that a couple of his competitors have had. Out here, he runs pretty much on his own from gun to finish.'
At this year's Junior Olympic Regionals, the runners-up were six seconds back of Paden in the 3,000 and three seconds back in the 1,500.
Paden has also had success in cross country. He's been a part of two national championship teams in Junior Olympics cross country, and he placed 19th in his age group at the national championships two years ago.
Paden is among six young athletes competing for Dare To Dream Track Club who began training with Achon in November.
'[Coach Achon] is very brutally honest,' said Paden. 'He gives us a time [when we're running intervals in practice], and he says, 'If you don't run this time - if you run a little faster - I'm leaving.' He's only kidding, but he wants you to follow his workouts to the letter.'
Achon's practices emphasize stretching and speed work. In a typical practice, after 30 minutes of stretching, Paden says he runs one kilometer twice at a 3-minute pace, 600 meters twice at a 1:40 pace, 400 meters twice at a 60-second pace, and 200 meters twice at a 27-second pace.
There was also strength training from January through March.
Besides the 2-1/2 to 3-hour daily practices with Achon, Paden takes 3- to 7-mile runs on his own three or four times a week.
He took up competitive running as fifth grader and he's been training seven days a week the year around for close to three years.
Paden will travel to Morgan University in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 25 to compete in the Junior Olympic Track and Field National Championships. He was the only area athlete to win a regional title, but he wasn't the only area athlete to qualify for the Junior Olympic Nationals.
Kate Jette of Clackamas, Kody Kozak of Oregon City and Taylor Hybl of Portland have also qualified, after finishing runners-up in competition at the regionals.
Jette, who will join Paden as a freshman at Clackamas High this fall, was a real workhorse at regionals, finishing regional runner-up in the Youth Girls pentathlon, which consists of five events.
Jette recorded lifetime bests in three of the five events, earning marks of 17.08 in the 100-meter hurdles, 30-1 in the shot put and 15-5 in the long jump. She also cleared 4-9 in the high jump and ran the 800 in 2:35.04.
Jette, who trains with the PSA Youth Running Club, has high hopes of placing in the top eight and bringing home a medal from the nationals, and her prospects look bright. She placed 10th at last year's nationals with a score of 2,567; her score at this year's regionals was 171 points better, at 2,738.
'My only goal is to medal,' said Jette. 'I was kind of disappointed last year, because I was so close.'
Jette is not new to national competition. This is her third trip to the JO Nationals in track and field, and she has been there four times in cross country. Two years ago she was on a 4-by-800 relay team that placed eighth in the nation.
Kozak cleared 5-5 in the high jump to earned regional runner-up honors among Youth Boys competing in that event.
Kozak, who will be an eighth grader at Ogden Middle School this fall, says he has gone as high as 5-6. Kozak's marks are all the more impressive because this is his first year competing in track and field.
Hybl, who competes in the Midget Boys (ages 11-12) division, qualified for nationals with a runner-up finish in the 800 meters. He recorded a lifetime best mark of 2:23.96, an improvement of more than five seconds over the mark that had earned him first place at the Oregon Junior Olympic championship meet.
Hybl, who will be a sixth grader at Pleasant Valley Elementary this fall, also placed fourth in the region in the 1,500 (4:57.33) and seventh in the 400 (1:05.96).
Kozak and Hybl both train with the Cavs Youth Track Club.
Emily Pahlke and Austin DeWitz of the Cavs Youth Track Club also turned in strong performances at the regionals. Pahlke placed fourth in the Midget Girls turbo-javelin (66-1) and DeWitz placed fourth in the Bantam Boys (ages 9-10) high jump (4-1-1/4).