Mount Pleasant runner races to 7th place finish at Hershey Nationals

  • Monday, August 5, 2013

Justin Pelic has received training from Christ Our King-Stella Maris coach Gary Santos. Pelic runs with a parachute as resistance. STAFF FILE PHOTO BY TYLER HEFFERNAN

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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 in Pennsylvania was short. And, that was a good thing.

Pelic tied his best time of 13.7 in the 100-meter race. It was good enough for seventh place out of eight competitors from around the country.

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.”

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.”

Prior to the trip, he said his expectations in Hershey are to just have fun and get a good place. He met former Olympian Carl Lewis, toured the famous chocolate factory and enjoyed a celebratory banquet. Even though he didn't finish first, that's not a shabby weekend. He will donate his medals from a decorated summer circuit to the Christ Our King School.

“It's starting to rain,” Pelic said at the Park West track on Tuesday to Santos.

“You gonna melt?”

“No, sir.”

“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.”

There was no heat before the 100-meter race in Hershey. More than 650 miles separate Charleston from Hershey, and the trip's climax lasted 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.”

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