Confidence, calm come to Mt. Hebron's Garcia

Track and field: Doing well in the decathlon at a national meet has done wonders for the junior's nerves.

High Schools

January 11, 2004|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Sometimes, Blake Garcia used to get so anxious about track and field meets he would find himself thinking about his performances during class.

At meets, his stomach would be so upset that he would refuse all food and drink.

But then a funny thing happened to Garcia: He placed sixth in the decathlon at the USA Track & Field Junior Olympic Championships last summer in Miami.

Since then, the Mount Hebron junior has been a picture of calm during indoor track competitions.

"I'm always somewhat nervous during every meet," he said. "But since I've been on the national level, it's not as bad as it used to be."

That's not the only thing that has changed for Garcia.

Since his effort at the Junior Olympics, Garcia said he has been noticed by more coaches and athletes who monitor track and field accomplishments.

He has adjusted his vision of the future to include competing in the decathlon at the collegiate level and possibly parlaying that experience into an attempt to reach the Summer Olympics.

Perhaps most significantly, Garcia has become a visible leader on a Vikings team that has sought to fill a void left by last year's graduation of Matt Sanders and Seth Kampf.

In just six weeks, Garcia has a victory and two second-place finishes in the 55-meter hurdles, a third and two fourth-place showings in the high jump, and a fourth-place effort in the pole vault.

It's that kind of versatility that convinced Mount Hebron coach Mark Reedy to suggest to Garcia last spring to compete in the decathlon.

"He could already pole-vault, and he could already hurdle," Reedy said, referring to Garcia's forays as a freshman. "We started high-jumping him a little bit, and it seemed like every event we put him in, he found success."

Garcia's first decathlon was at the association championships - a sort of statewide competition that includes Northern Virginia. He finished second with 5,023 points behind North Carroll's Tim Wunderlich.

At the Region 3 championships - which include Georgia and the Carolinas - he placed second again with 4,962 points.

Finally, Garcia collected 5,296 points to finish sixth at the Junior Olympics.

"At first, I was totally glad it was over," Garcia said of participating in the 10 events over two days. "When it was over, I thought [the sixth-place finish] was great. I was very excited."

Chris Eccleston, a classmate of Garcia who also competed in the Junior Olympics decathlon, said he noticed a change in Garcia's attitude in Miami.

"He never looked down on himself," said Eccleston, a three-sport sophomore. "If he did something wrong, he thought he would do it better the next time."

Of all the decathlon's events, Garcia - who is 5 feet 8, 143 pounds - said he had the most trouble with the javelin throw, discus and shot put.

But he has dedicated himself to improving in all 10 events. Reedy said he has driven past Garcia's home in Ellicott City and spotted Garcia practicing with the discus in the back yard.

"He's a pure athlete," Reedy said. "He's got speed, flexibility, incredible coordination. He's explosive, but at the same time, he's smooth."

Part of Garcia's all-around ability can be attributed to his two-year background in gymnastics. He said the flexibility required for gymnastics has given him greater mobility in the decathlon.

"The more flexible you are, the faster you go," he said. "It's a lot easier to hurdle, a lot easier to do everything."

Whether he can parlay that into a state title in an individual event in indoor track this winter and outdoor track this spring is up in the air.

While Garcia said he is concentrating on earning his first county crown, Reedy said it wouldn't be surprising if he placed in the top six in the hurdles or pole vault at the state level.

Garcia doesn't downplay his coach's faith. After all, what's a state meet compared to a national competition?

"I never thought I'd experience something that big," he said. "I definitely feel more confident because I know I'm better than I thought I was."

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