Six months ago, Daniel Espinoza wanted a way to get his four younger children motivated about athletics. The outcome was 10 medals and four invitations to the 2013 Junior Olympic Games, July 24 to Aug. 3, in Detroit.
When Espinoza heard about the Phenom Elite track and field club in Stockton, he decided to give it a try. He knew that coaches Pam Santillan and Jeanetta Jordan have led other athletes to national Junior Olympics competition and also to college track and field scholarships.
"My fear, as a first-year family, was that they would concentrate on the superstars and the others would go by the wayside," Espinoza said. "That does not happen here. They look at everybody across the board the same and treat each one as their own."
The result was 10 Junior Olympics medals for the four Espinoza kids, including three gold medals, at the AAU West Coast Junior Olympics Games, held June 27 to 30 in Reno.
All four siblings — Evalina, Jake, Justin and Mateo — had at least one top-five finish, qualifying them to compete in the Junior Olympic Games.
Jordan said the Espinozas exemplify what she and Santillan want to accomplish through the club they have coached for nearly seven years.
"The Espinoza crew, they just really came in and took to it," Jordan said. "They had never participated, and everybody found their strengths in some place, and they all walked away with something."
Leading the way was the youngest, Mateo Espinoza, who won the 8-and-under boys 100-meter dash in 14.68 seconds and placed third in the 200 meters (30.07). He said training in running technique helps, but the cheering of fans is really what motivates him.
"My parents yell my name and I can try my best at everything," Mateo said.
He was also a member of the first-place 4x100 relay team, which set a meet record of 1 minute, 1.69 seconds in Reno. That team included Donnie Jones, a fellow Tracy resident and the winner of the 200 meters (30.03) and silver medalist in the 100 (14.69).
Evalina Espinoza, competing in the 13-year-old girls division, brought home silver medals in the 3,000-meter race-walk (25:09.5) and discus throw (57 feet, 2 inches) and bronze in the shot put (25-10.75).
In six months, she has learned to push through difficult workouts — at least four a week — and now looks forward to competition.
"My coaches have my back 100 percent," she said. "(Competition) was kind of tough, but I’m used to it, because my coaches told me, ‘It’s you-versus-you, and you have to do your best.’"
Also winning gold in Reno was Justin Espinoza. He set a meet record in the 10-year-old boys 1,500-meter race-walk (10:45.01). He was also fourth in the shot put (19-9.5) and fifth in the long jump (11-2.5).
Jake Espinoza finished fourth in the 12-year-old boys shot put (24-7.75), earning his place in the national competition, and also competed in the 200- and 400-meter dashes.
A fifth Espinoza sibling, Bradley, is a sophomore at Alderson-Broaddus College in West Virginia, where he plays lacrosse.
The family is part of a Tracy contingent from Phenom Elite that competed in Reno.
Teammate Aaron Cook is also headed to Detroit after winning the 200 (23.95) and the triple jump (33-7) in
the 14-year-old boys division. He was fifth in the 400 (55.22).
Cook, an incoming freshman at Millennium High, said he joined the track and field team to improve his speed for football.
"It’s something that I started to enjoy, and that’s what gets me motivated," he said.
Other Tracy qualifiers include Kaelyn Cook, who placed fourth in the 10-year-old girls long jump (10-8), and Alani Gayles, also 10, who was fifth in the same event (9-7.75). Akayla Gayles placed fifth in the 12-year-old girls 100-meter dash (13.48), and Kiara Jones was part of the third-place 14-year-old girls 4x100 relay team (53.01).
• Contact Bob Brownne at 830-4227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.