It was one of those things that just sticks to your mind.
Veteran St. Dominic Academy track and field coach John Nagel vividly recalls the first meeting he had with his senior leader, Kristina Jimenez, when she was an aspiring freshman a few years ago.
“Her first practice, she probably didn’t speak a word,” Nagel said. “We had the girls get together in the late summer to go on a run. Well, she did the run and went home. That was it.”
“I was definitely shy back then,” Jimenez said. “I remember that I didn’t know anything back then. I didn’t know about times. I didn’t even know what a 400 split was. I definitely was lost.”
But Jimenez began to feel more relaxed and at home, thanks to the welcoming efforts of the SDA seniors.
“I think everyone is a little shy in the beginning,” Jimenez said. “I think that’s all just part of it. It’s hard for someone to come out of their shell. I don’t know how to explain it. You always have that, and it’s hard to grow into it. I was lucky to have seniors on the team who made me feel comfortable and helped me learn about track.”
Nagel knew that Jimenez arrived at SDA with a little bit of track background, having run for the Our Lady of Mercy grammar school program, coached by veteran volunteer John Hnath.
“She was always pretty good,” Nagel said. “She was always in a subordinate role. She just needed a little confidence.”
But there was one aspect to the sport that Nagel never had to worry about with Jimenez.
“Day in and day out, she’s a very hard worker,” Nagel said. “In terms of work ethic, she could have been right there with some of our best. She practices as well as she can and I’m a big practice guy. She’s always been a hard worker and that’s what it’s all about.”
Now that Jimenez is a senior, the hard work is beginning to pay off in huge dividends.
“She always played a backup role, but now she’s becoming more prominent,” Nagel said. “She’s become more of the main course instead of being an appetizer. She’s coming more and more into her own.”
Last week, Jimenez played a vital role as the Blue Devils captured the HCIAA Relays team title at the Jersey City Armory.
Jimenez was on three winning relay teams, the distance medley relay, the 1,600-meter relay and the 3,200-meter relay.
In the distance medley, Jimenez ran a 2:31.5 split and in the 1,600-meter, she set a personal best with a split of 1:05.2. She also ran a 2:36 split in the 3,200-meter relay.
For her efforts, Jimenez has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Jimenez is more than just a runner for the Blue Devils. She’s a leader in the truest sense.
“She’s a leader in the school and she’s definitely an organizer,” Nagel said. “She’s an integral part of everything we do. She keeps the freshmen going and shows them the proper way to practice. Whenever we need something done, Kristina volunteers to do it. She’s the one with the responsibility that we need.”
“He’s always entrusted me with those responsibilities,” Jimenez said of Nagel. “That’s really been an honor to me that he trusts me so much.”
Jimenez says that she is a determined athlete, even more so this year because it’s her final season.
“I’m definitely dedicated,” Jimenez said. “I trained all summer and I had like three days off. I was really excited to be a leader on the team this year and I really wanted to improve my times. After a while, it got a little crazy, but when you get the results, you know that it’s all worth it,” she said.
“In the beginning of high school, I was never confident,” Jimenez added. “But after this past cross country season, I felt strong. I felt like I was finally going to get a chance to show what I can do. And I wanted to be able to do for the freshmen what the seniors did for me when I was their age. It’s sort of like passing the torch.”
Or in this case, passing the baton.
“Yeah, it’s like that,” Jimenez laughed.
Jimenez now hopes to become part of a college track and field program. She aspires to study physical therapy and sports medicine in college. She’s ranked among the top 25 students in the senior class at St. Dominic, so she can pretty much write her own collegiate ticket. New York University is one of the schools that she has applied to.
“I try to work as hard in the classroom as I do on the track,” Jimenez said. “To me, track is like an escape from everything else. When I get on the track, I don’t even think of anything else. I definitely want to run in college. It’s been such a good experience for me.”
Nagel said that he has enjoyed the maturing process that Jimenez has gone through, from shy and unsure freshman to determined senior leader.
“That’s the fun part of coaching, watching your athletes develop,” Nagel said. “She’s enjoying life and having a good time. That’s very important. And she’s a successful young lady in everything she does.”
“It’s all been worth it in the end,” Jimenez said. “Everything I’ve done has been worth it.”
It comes with being a “track” of all trades. – Jim Hague