SARASOTA — Every time The Out-of-Door Academy boys track and field team stepped onto the track this season, its performance was nothing short of miraculous.
With the largest squad in school history, the Thunder started the season off strong, winning back-to-back meets in early March. A month later, the team crowned seven district champions on its way to finishing as the district runner-up.
But the Thunder’s historic season didn’t end there. Instead, the team went on to compete in the regional meet at the Community School of Naples. The Thunder finished as the regional runner-up, crowing four regional champions, setting six school records and advancing eight runners to the state meet.
“I think our coach and just the chemistry have been the difference this year,” senior Alex Gardinier said. “We were hungry from last year because we were kind of heart broken at the end of last season.”
“We had a lot of people come out and help fill out the relays,” senior Trey Malone added. “Everyone just stepped up and came together really well.”
On May 1, the Thunder competed in the Class 1A Track and Field Championships at Winter Park High School. ODA competed in six events, including the 100, 200 and 800-meter dashes, the 300-meter hurdles and the 1,600- and 3,200-meter relays.
The team, which finished 29th overall at the meet, was led by Gardinier, who finished seventh in the 300 hurdles in 42.06 and the 3,200-meter relay team of Malone, Brian and Chris Ragone and Jeff Young, who clocked in at 8:29.92 for eighth place.
Junior Alana Rogers was the lone member of the ODA girls team to advance to the state meet. Competing for the third consecutive time at states, Rogers finished 11th in the 200 finishing in 27.58.
“It’s their deal — I just point them to the starting line,” coach Joe Runge said. “They’ve done a really good job. This year has been five years in the making and they’re consistently competing at a high level.”
But it’s the route the team has had to travel over the past five years that makes the story even more astounding. Without a track of its own to practice on, ODA has learned to rely on other training methods to prepare them for competition.
Instead of running standard laps around a track, the Thunder use trees, flags, the baseball field and hills as reference points for each specific distance. However, there are times when the athletes themselves don’t know exactly how far they’re running.
“During practice, when our times come in at Olympic levels … then we know the distances aren’t right,” Malone said.
Before the start of every meet, Runge gathers the team together and points them in the direction of the starting blocks, reminds them of how many laps they need to run and when each member of the relay team needs to exchange the baton.
“It's kind of weird not having a track, but it makes it more exciting,” sophomore Chris Ragone said. “It’s different when you’re getting ready to run a 200 and you see the turn. Here, you really don’t know how far you’re running — we go by trees.”
But come next spring, that could all change. This summer, ODA is scheduled to break ground on a new track and field facility, complete with an eight-lane track. With the new addition, the Thunder hope to begin hosting track meets of their own and enjoying the experience of no longer have to practice on grassy hills.
“I kind of like grass in a way, but the experience of going to track meets is so much more exciting,” Rogers said. “It’s just a completely different environment on the track.”
Contact Jen Blanco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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