Depina shines in final event of summer
CENTRAL FALLS – If “Show & Tell” is still a fixture in the city’s school system, Jayla Depina will have a field day describing to her fellow Calcutt Middle School sixth-graders how she spent her summer.
Depina, 12, recently qualified for the Hershey USA National Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships at Sacramento (Calif.) State University’s Hornet Stadium. Though her head coach with FAST TRACK Youth Team, Ernest Fennell, as well as her dad, Joaquim, had to scramble to find the funds to get her there, they delivered.
So did Depina, who in the girls’ 11-12 age group finished 35th of 54 registrants in the 400 meters and posted a personal-best clocking of 1:04.80, nearly a second quicker than her previous mark of 1:05.76.
According to Fennell, with that time, the small girl with lightning speed now owns the fastest time of anyone in her age group in the Ocean State and New England.
It also sits her in the top spot in the city for anyone her age – yes, that includes boys.
“She did a PR by over a second, but that doesn’t surprise me,” Fennell stated not long after he returned from California. “That was my goal, our goal, all along. I preached to her, ‘There are going to be a lot of really talented girls here, so all I want you to try to do is your best time. That’s all we’re really worried about.’”
After she finished her preliminary heat at about 10:30 a.m., last Friday, Depina apparently didn’t think to look up at the missive scoreboard to see her name and time, so she walked up to Fennell to ask him.
“When I told her, she had a huge ear-to-ear grin,” Fennell laughed. “She also said, ‘You were right. Those girls really are talented. They were flying.’ The point was, so was she.
“She was seeded 41st going in, so to move up six spots, that’s pretty impressive.”
So is how Fennell found a way to fund the trip. Beforehand, he had set up a GoFundMe page for people to donate to, but that pulled in about $1,400, $2,600 below what they needed for the threesome to fly there and pay for lodging and food.
“His family members and friends, and mine, helped get us there,” the coach said. “We had to book the flights with our own credit cards, and then we got reimbursed by the GoFundMe account, but we had to pay the rest.
“Remember what I told you about Jayla’s smile after doing her PR? That’s why I wanted so badly to make this trip, seeing the look on a kid’s face after they accomplish something great,” he continued. “It shows them that everything I prescribe has a reason, when they implement those things, they’ll be successful – maybe not every time, but for the most part.
“I was determined to make this trip with Jayla because I’ve had kids qualify (for nationals) three different times, and I’ve taken some to Jacksonville (Fla.) and Greensboro (N.C.), but never California. We could never raise enough money to make the trip.
“I wanted her to experience what it was like running on the other side of the country, the West Coast.”
Though Depina failed to earn a berth in the finals, the extra time off did supply her the opportunities to do some site seeing.
“We saw everything; she actually went hiking twice at state parks, and went over the Golden Gate Bridge five times,” Fennell noted. “We went to Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, saw Alcatraz from a distance, the Bay Bridge. We even took a tour and rode on a trolley car. We all had a great time.
“We also took a ton of photos,” he added. “That’s what I like to do on these trips. I always show them to our athletes, pictures of where other kids who qualified for the Junior Olympics saw and what they did. It makes them hungry to improve so they can maybe make a trip someday, too.”
“Remember what I told you about Jayla’s smile after doing her PR? That’s why I wanted so badly to make this trip, seeing the look on a kid’s face after they accomplish something great.” — FAST TRACK coach Ernest Fennell
Central Falls speedster Jayla Depina set a new personal best in the 400 meters at the Hershey’s Junior Olympic Track championships.