During Central Oregon Track Club practices this past summer, hurdles and jumps coach Lisa Zimmerman made it her mission to coax some laughter out of Alexandra Acevedo between drills and sprints.
“Especially at this point in track, it’s not a high-intensity, bang-’em-up sport,” Zimmerman said. “We have fun out there, but (Alexandra — more commonly known as Alex) is a pretty serious competitor, and she’s even serious at practice. She’s very focused, extremely focused for her age, and that’s probably what makes the difference. She’s coachable, she’ll listen to what you’re saying, and she’s able to apply that.”
Acevedo, a 12-year-old sixth-grader at Pacific Crest Middle School who was honored as the Female Multi-Event Athlete of the Year at the USA Track & Field Oregon Association awards ceremony Sunday in Portland, said lots of her teammates and coaches have commented on her intensity over the years.
“I would go to these parks and rec volleyball camps, and all of the coaches there would be like, ‘Are you having fun?’” Acevedo recounted during an interview at her home in Bend last week. “I’m having a lot of fun!”
Acevedo won the pentathlon and 80-meter hurdles titles and finished second in the long jump at the USATF Oregon Junior Olympic Championship meet in Portland in June, and she went on to win gold in the pentathlon, silver in the hurdles and bronze in both the long jump and the high jump at the Region 13 Junior Olympic Championships in Spokane, Washington, in July.
She is also a member of the Oregon Volleyball Academy 12s National team that qualified for the Junior National Championships in Minneapolis in June, although she was not able to attend the tournament due to a shoulder injury.
Although COTC athletes regularly perform well at state and regional meets — 31 finished in the top eight in their age group in at least one event at the state meet to qualify for regionals, and another 15 qualified for nationals — Zimmerman said Acevedo was the first in recent memory to earn one of the statewide awards.
“She won (the pentathlon) at state and then at regionals, the fact that she did that really made her stand out,” Zimmerman said. “But this award, it includes all age divisions. So the fact that she was the female multi-event winner for the state even took me by surprise. I didn’t expect that. I thought she would win the 11-12 category, but for her to win all age categories is really a phenomenal feat at the age that she’s at. We’re thrilled for her and we’re thrilled to have her on our team.”
When asked about track season, Acevedo eagerly provides details in a matter-of-fact tone, as if she sees nothing unusual about the fact that she tried the 80-meter hurdles and pentathlon for the first time this season and by the end of July had finished 18th in the five-event competition at the USATF National Junior Olympic Championships in Lawrence, Kansas. (Much like the men’s decathlon or women’s heptathlon contested at higher levels of the sport, competitors in the pentathlon are awarded points based on their performance in the 80-meter hurdles, long jump, high jump, shot put and the 800.)
“It went well,” Acevedo said of her first season competing in the pentathlon, an understatement that caused her friend Mara Newcomer, a fellow Pacific Crest sixth-grader visiting for the afternoon, to break into laughter.
Although Acevedo considers the hurdles and jumping events to be her strengths, she was trailing a competitor from a Washington club heading into the final event, the 800-meter run, at the regional meet.
“The girl that I had to beat, she was pretty good at the 800, too,” Acevedo recounted. “Her best was probably five seconds behind mine, and I had to win by 15 seconds. So yeah, I ran as hard as I could, and I did not feel great afterwards.”
In the end, Acevedo finished the event with 2,408 points, beating her-closest competitor by 91 points.
But at practice the next week, she tore a hamstring while running warmup laps, jeopardizing the trip to nationals as well as volleyball camp in Colorado the week after. Acevedo said doctors told her she needed three weeks to heal, but she refused to skip the track meet.
“It was back-and-forth, very emotional time, figuring out what to do,” Alex’s mother, Nada Acevedo, said. “She wouldn’t give up, she had to go to Kansas. There was no other way. We could not talk her out of it. We went, and pretty much spent the whole time, we were so scared (that she would be re-injured). And then she got some PRs and did awesome.”
In fact, in a summer packed with events and highlights, Alex said her favorite moment was clearing 4 feet, 9 inches — a personal best — in the high jump at nationals, good for ninth place in her age group. Also memorable was the moment when an official handed over her track spikes for the 800 run, and she saw that they had been signed by two-time Olympic decathlon champion (and Mountain View High School grad) Ashton Eaton while she was competing in another event.
But now that fall has returned, Alex has turned her focus back to volleyball, and she is now playing with a Pacific Crest school team in addition to club teams. While she has been forced to quit some activities, such as gymnastics and karate, to make room for her other sports, she said she fully intends to continue with volleyball and track for the foreseeable future.
“The weird thing is, during volleyball season, I love volleyball. I don’t like track, I don’t want to do track,” Acevedo explained. “And then when I got to track season, I love track. I don’t want to do volleyball. And I keep going back and forth. When I transitioned from track to volleyball, it was like, ughhhh. And then once I got into volleyball, it’s like, oh my God, I love it.”
Zimmerman said she expects Acevedo to continue excelling in sports as she gets older. Her only concern is keeping Alex — the girl who refused to wait three weeks for her hamstring to heal — physically healthy and excited about her sports.
“I remember going to a clinic a few years ago, and they were asking about training for really talented young athletes,” Zimmerman said. “And this one coach said something that stuck with me: ‘Don’t peak your freak.’ And what he meant by that was, don’t take a talented athlete and have them become their best athlete in high school. You want them to continue to grow, and that’s the thing with Alex, is let her have fun. Make sure that we’re cognizant and watching to make sure she doesn’t get too tired or burned out. So that’s something we’ll really keep an eye on in the future with her.”
Nada Acevedo said she suspects that Alex’s serious demeanor is due in part to her relationship with her younger brother Jovan, who has autism.
“They’re only 18 months apart, and I think she always felt responsible for him, she matured a lot earlier than other kids,” Nada said. “When she went to camp, she wanted to FaceTime him, not us (her parents). I’m like, hello! But it’s, ‘Can I talk to Jovan? Can I see Jovan? Can you bring Jovan to me?’ Which is really cute. He makes the kids laugh; he’s really funny. And I think, sometimes, when she needs to laugh, she wants to see him.”
Nada said she and her husband, Eric, were worried about how Jovan would react when Alex began to participate in more competitive athletic activities, which often involve full-day competitions and long hours traveling. They were relieved when they discovered that Jovan loves playing travel agent, and the entire family now travels to every track meet and volleyball tournament.
“He does our scheduling. He knows what hotel we’re staying at. He knows how to get there. He knows what time is check-in,” Nada explained. “He’s like a human navigation system, that’s what we call him. He remembers everything.”
If Alex has her way, her brother will one day plan a family trip to the Olympics.
“I aspire to take it to the Olympics, yeah,” Alex said, noting that she wants to compete in the heptathlon. It was not an offhand comment — it was clear she is serious.
— Reporter: 541-383-0305, email@example.com