Unlikely team of two finishes 12th in the nation in NJCAA Track and Field

ALAMOSA — The team that finished first brought 34 athletes. Trinidad State came with only two, but ended up in 12th place at the NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) Indoor Track and Field national meet in Pittsburg, Kansas, in February. 

Considering it’s the first year of athletics at the Valley Campus in Alamosa, this is an amazing accomplishment. And their story, which spans the world, is just as amazing.

Raised in downtown Los Angeles, Elias Gedyon, won first in the 1000 meter with a time of 2:29.85. Coming clear from Darby, England, to train with Coach Lauren Martin, Daniel Haymes placed fourth in the nation in the 3000 meter in 8:30.22, just 10 seconds behind the first-place winner. In the mile run Gedyon placed second and Haymes placed seventh.

“They’ve exceeded my expectations. That’s for sure,” said Coach Martin. “Dan is a really good kid who shows up every day, super excited to be here. Elias is usually the goof ball. It’s hard to have a bad day when the two of them are around. I’m really proud of them. They have set the bar pretty high. They show up every single day when I ask them to without any questions. Even when it’s 5:45 in the morning, I can count on them. They have set a really good standard for what I expect as a coach and for what will help this team continue to grow and become better. As we get more people to take to the nationals, I think we’ll be in the Top 10 pretty quickly.”

Adjusting to the 7,600-foot altitude in the Valley didn’t come easy. Both young men essentially came from sea level. 

“After I got here and was walking upstairs and was out of breath, I thought ‘man I’m really out of shape,’” said Haymes. “I got fatigued much more quickly and couldn’t do the things I did at sea level. It was tough. Other athletes say it takes about a year to adjust to the altitude.”

Gedyon agreed. “It was really tough at first. My body wasn’t used to the thin air at the time and it took around three months just to get used to the altitude. My body got fatigued really easily and my sleep was affected by that. But once I got used to it, my body was really strong and my lungs were as big as a bull’s!”

Injury was another challenging component for Haymes when he experienced a micro-tear in a ligament in his foot which led to compensation by other muscles which eventually caused his hip to hurt. It took several months for him to recover.

For as long as he can remember Haymes wanted to come to America on a scholarship and study and run. 

“When Coach Martin contacted me about the program, it seemed like a perfect fit.  My friends told me, ‘If you don’t go to America, you might regret it.’” 

He explained that getting his visa was a bit challenging and leaving his family and his girlfriend has been hard. 

“But, I have no regrets,” Haymes said, “I love it here. At home people are always rushing and they don’t take time to visit. Here the people are very friendly and will take time to talk to you. And in England it’s cloudy all the time and it’s cold. I love the sunshine here. I am happy to commit to two years here. I’ll keep running my butt off! My main objective is to become a professional runner.” 

Haymes, who said he takes his education a lot more seriously now, is studying massage therapy. He said his instructor (Julie Kotalik) is the best he has ever had.  He is considering nutritional science as a possibility to extend his education once he completes two years at Trinidad State. He feels it would complement his athletic goals.   

Word usage in England is a ‘tad’ different than in the U.S.  When the team travels for competitions, they often eat at Chipotle Mexican Grill. Martin said, “Dan always asks for tomato (pronounced toe-maw-toe) sauce, which in England means ketchup!  Gedyon added, “He eats ranch (dressing) with everything.” Haymes laughed and said, “They don’t know what that means back home. I use it for everything even on my cereal!”  “Good lad” is a phrase Haymes would use when someone from the states might say “good guy.”

Gedyon came to the Valley after a two-year stay in Ethiopia with friends and relatives where he learned to speak Amharic, an Ethiopian language. He also continued to run. When Gedyon was asked if he left a girlfriend behind too, his answer was a definite no! He did say he experienced a culture shock compared to the fast-paced living in California. 

“It’s a more relaxed slower life-style here,” he said. “The people are very welcoming and it’s very peaceful here. It was the best decision for me.” 

He plans to transfer to Adams State where he will study business management and law. He will continue running and will train with Damon Martin, Lauren’s dad, who trained her.

“The good thing about running is it’s a year-round sport which allows you a longer opportunity to achieve the things you want to achieve,” said Martin. “You have to run every day over a long period of time to get better. It takes longer than most sports to reach your goals. And Adams State has been great about letting us share their facilities. We use the bubble (the relatively new very large tent-like stadium) at Adams State and we go in early in the morning and we usually complete a workout before the sun rises and before the Adams State athletes arrive.”

“We’re a small campus and with the small classes, the students get a lot of attention.  You get that connection with the teacher and it makes it easier,” said Haymes. “And even though this is a junior college, the training here is done like a Division I school,” he said. “Coach has exceeded my expectations. She didn’t disappoint. It has been really good.”

Elias agreed. “I really enjoy it – all aspects. I’m enjoying the classes I’m taking. The teachers are really cool, very laid back. Always the jokester, he quipped, “I want to be just like her (coach) when I grow up!”

Caption: Elias Gedyon, left, and Dan Haymes scored enough points to earn a 12th place for the Trinidad Trojans at the NJCAA nationals. Coach Martin is all smiles. Courtesy photo by Margaret Sanderson.