This year, four local athletes will be competing in the London Olympics, two runners, a swimmer and a volleyball player. They have different backgrounds and different lifestyles, but all are dedicated to their sport and all grew up right here in the Santa Clarita Valley. These are their stories:
It wasn’t until ninth grade that world champion runner and Santa Clarita local Allyson Felix discovered her passion for running. Just four short years later, at 18, she won her first silver medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics. This was followed by a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, in addition to being named the Athletics World Champion on three different occasions.
This year, Felix is preparing to attend the 2012 Olympics in London, as a 100-meter runner. Though she initially tied with Jeneba Tarmoh in the Olympic Trials, Felix qualified when Tarmoh pulled out.
As a dedicated Christian who attended Los Angeles Baptist High School and whose father is a professor at The Master’s Seminary in Sun Valley, Felix sees running as more than an opportunity to showcase her talent.
“My faith is the reason I run,” she has been quoted as saying. “It calms my heart and makes everything feel like a lift. My speed is definitely a gift from Him, and I run for His glory. Whatever I do, He allows me to do it.”
In light of this, Felix knows she doesn’t have to use performance-enhancing drugs to succeed. In an effort to encourage integrity in a sport prone to scandal, she joined Project Believe, started by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, and undergoes voluntary screenings.
She commented to ESPN, “Whatever I can do to prove I’m clean, I’m willing to do it. No matter what time I have to wake up or drive or whatever.”
Character is as important to Felix as athletic prowess, and her prowess is amazing. At 5’6” and 125 pounds, she is small but extremely fast for her size. In high school, her legs were so skinny that she earned the nickname “Chicken Legs,” despite the fact that she could deadlift 270 pounds. She also set a record as the fastest high school girl in history, running 200 meters in 22.11 seconds. Since then, her best time for the 200-meter has been 21.69 seconds, set in May 2012. Her best time for the 100-meter, which she will run in London, is 10.92 seconds.
To get the latest updates on Felix’s journey, like her Facebook page or follow her on Twitter.
When Alysia Montaño is preparing for the race of her life, there are two things she can’t do without: a smile and the trademark flower in her hair.
The 26-year-old Canyon High School graduate can’t remember a time when she didn’t like to run.
“My oldest cousin did Track and Field; and when I was still too young for even a kiddie program, I’d just hang out with my cousins and run in circles around the infield. I couldn’t wait for my turn,” Montaño comments on her website.
While at Canyon High School, Montaño was named Santa Clarita Valley Athlete of the Year. After graduation she was recruited by the University if California at Berkley, where she studied theater and trained with hopes of entering the 2008 Olympics.
Montaño’s course seemed free of obstacles, and she was poised to tryout for her dream, until an unforeseen injury surfaced early in 2008. It started as minor foot pain and when an MRI came back negative, Montaño decided to push through the pain for the U.S. National Championships. Instead, her “foot gave out,” as she put it.
Unfazed, she returned full-force in 2010 and is now preparing to run the 800-meter in London.
According to Montaño, “The 800 meters is considered to be the ‘longest sprint’: to succeed you have to find the perfect balance of both anaerobic and aerobic fitness.”
At her side are her husband and strength coach Louis Montaño and coach Tony Sandoval.
Montaño’s goals reach beyond competing in the Olympics. She hopes to own a fitness studio in the future, to help families understand that exercise is both important and fun. She also is open to the possibility of using her theater degree to pursue roles in the movies or television.
Whatever the task, she tries to tackle her life with a positive attitude. At the end of 2010, she wrote on her blog, “Reflecting upon this year also had me reflect back on my history in general as a runner, putting my successes in chronological order and seeing a pattern of upward progression… People are without a doubt going to go on a journey of exploration, heartache, pain, love and laughter, but all of those things are life and they mold each person into who they are. One thing many people tend to forget is that life isn’t a destination, nor can the achievement of success be the only goal. Life is, in fact, a journey. We are forever evolving, forever changing, forever growing…”
To learn more about Alysia Montaño, visit her website or like her Facebook page.
After a 12-year hiatus, Anthony Ervin is back in the pool and ready to compete in the 2012 Olympics. He is an Olympic gold-medalist turned tattoo artist turned Olympian again. UC Berkeley’s California magazine described him as both a “prodigy” and a “prodigal son.” Despite his time away, it took Ervin less than two years to rise back to the top, swimming the 50 meter freestyle in 22.24 seconds.
Ervin began swimming competitively with the Canyons Aquatics Club and then with Hart High School. He attended college at Berkley, but left before graduating.
In the midst of this, at age 19, he competed in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Ervin’s team won silver in the 4×100 meter freestyle relay, and he took the gold in the 50 meter freestyle.
But, instead of riding the waves of this success into the 2004 Olympics, Ervin quit and moved to New York.
He told California, “You have to strip away every extracurricular [activity] to be a swimmer. Even in high school, I was always thinking about what I was giving up. Even when I got to college, even after accomplishing my goals, I was thinking about what I was not doing. [I wanted] to have no necessary obligations other than to myself and often to pleasure.”
His break with swimming was so drastic that he even auctioned his gold medal on eBay and donated the proceeds to victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami. It was not until he returned to Berkeley in 2007 to complete his Bachelor’s Degree and begin a Master’s that he thought about swimming again.
In the London Olympics, the now 31-year-old athlete will swim the 50 meter freestyle, having placed second in the Trials by one one-hundredth of a second. Ervin’s recent drastic lifestyle change did not stop him from setting a personal record (21.60 seconds) at the Trials. Time will tell if this holds true in the Olympics.
Click here to read the full California article or visit Anthony Ervin’s website for updates.
According to the USA Volleyball website, he likes to eat shredded beef, watch The Office, and go to Anaheim Angels games. He is also hearing impaired, but that hasn’t stopped Saugus High School graduate David Smith from being named to the USA Olympic Volleyball Team.
Smith played volleyball at Saugus High, and after graduating he attended UC Irvine, where he earned a B.S. in Civil Engineering and excelled as a middle blocker on their volleyball team.
UCIrvineSports.com reports that “he led the nation with a .559 hitting percentage. He is also UCI’s career leader in block assists (471) and total blocks (520).” He was named a first team All-American and played on the NCAA’s All-Tournament team. Smith is one of UCI’s first athletes to attend the Olympics.
Since graduating college, he has played internationally in Canada, Thailand, Puerto Rico, Brazil and France.
Smith’s attitude toward the sport and his dedication to living beyond his disability are best described by teammate and fellow Olympian Brian Thornton: “…he wouldn’t be quite the outstanding individual today if he was a ‘normy’ such as myself. Don’t get me wrong…he would still be an outstanding individual but he just wouldn’t be the same David Smith who never complains about a bad set, yells genuinely at the top of his lungs with excitement after a stuff, falls asleep in 3 seconds flat, can never really get heckled, and shakes his head and gives me a ‘really this joke hasn’t gotten old in 8 years?’ look if I cover my mouth with my hand when speaking to him. Basically the David Smith I have come to know and love over the years. Also, I’m convinced that this thing works out in volleyball as an advantage. He’s the best read blocker I have ever seen and I think some of it is strictly from his ability to pick things up that the rest of us ‘normies’ can’t because we take advantage of having all of our senses every day in our lives.”
Characteristically, Smith is modest about his success, quoted in The Signal as saying, “If someone were to go back and tell the 14-year-old me that volleyball was going to take me to college, around the world, to the Olympics and beyond, I am pretty sure I would not have believed them. This sport that started out as just something fun to do has been a blessing far beyond what I could have ever hoped for.”
Click here to view Smith’s USA Volleyball profile for more information.