Depina shines in fi­nal event of sum­mer

Pawtucket Times - - SPORTS - By JON BAKER jbaker@paw­tuck­et­

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

Sub­mit­ted photo

Cen­tral Falls speed­ster Jayla Depina set a new per­sonal best in the 400 me­ters at the Her­shey’s Ju­nior Olympic Track cham­pi­onships.

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