Justin Pelic has received training from Christ Our King-Stella Maris coach Gary Santos. Pelic runs with a parachute as resistance.
Justin Pelic has spent countless time pushing his 12-year-old body to the limit. He runs drills in knee-high surf at Sullivan's Island and finds the rare hills of the Lowcountry and sprints them.
Yet, his time at the Hershey Track and Field Nationals will be brief. And, the shorter the better.
Pelic will be competing with seven other athletes from around the country in the 100-meter race. During a final tune-up practice on the Park West track on Tuesday, he ran his best time (13.7), despite fighting a decent breeze.
Gary Santos, a coach at Christ Our King-Stella Maris School, has been training him with natural conditioning. No weights, just a mix of old-school and new-school workouts.
“I hate to see weights on a kid this young,” Santos, a former track athlete and football player at Bishop England from the 1970s, said. “I'd rather see them out there getting that natural conditioning in the sand, in the water, on the hills.
“All that running in the water helped with his stamina. If he's gonna win, he's gotta get off (the line) first.”
Last year, Pelic – competing as an 11 year old in the 11-12 division – didn't come close to this year's performances. Santos identified one of his weaknesses as his start.
After watching the NFL Combine, he noticed those players would start their sprinting tests with one arm in the air so they could use it to drive forward when the gun sounded. Pelic adapted that same running style, and it's worked.
What started as a supplement to football became a passion for him. Santos said Pelic asks him questions about nutrition. “I said, 'You're 12,” he said, laughing.
“If he didn't have this dedication,” Santos added, “it wouldn't matter how good his conditioning is.”
Most youth athletes succeed through raw talent. Then, in high school, proper form and fundamentals are emphasized. Pelic is way ahead of his peers.
He started running track a couple years ago. “I found out I was pretty good at track, and I started loving it after that,” he said.
But, football is still No. 1 to the running back. “They're kinda tied,” he said, “but I like football a little bit more.”
He said his expectations in Hershey are to just have fun and get a good place. He'll get to meet former Olympian Carl Lewis, tour the famous chocolate factory and enjoy a celebratory banquet. Even if he finishes eighth, that's not a bad weekend.
“It's starting to rain,” Pelic said at the Park West track on Tuesday to Santos.
“You gonna melt?”
“All right,” Santos said. “Let's go again.”
Pelic trains with a small parachute pulling behind him to help his ability to start quicker. When he runs, the parachute opens and provides resistance.
“Your form is really good,” Santos said to Pelic. “Even in high school, there will be guys that won't have that.”
The 100-meter event, which is Saturday, is just one race. There is no heat beforehand. More than 650 miles separate Charleston from Hershey, and the trip's climax will last less than 15 seconds.
Pelic said his favorite aspect of the 100-meter race is its brevity. “It's not too long,” he said. “Everything is speed.”