Future Olympians

Oct. 7, 2004, midnight | By Pria Anand | 19 years, 2 months ago

Blazers spend long hours training for the gold

Junior Michael Reives was eight years old when he first realized that he had the potential to make a name for himself running track. He began running when a friend noticed his speed, and soon after, Reives qualified to compete in the Junior Olympics in the 100- and 200-meter events. He started commuting nightly to Washington, D.C., for three-hour practices, and his expectations soared as his running times dropped. Reives set his sights on the 2012 Olympic Games.

During his middle school years, however, Reives began to question the sacrifices he had made for his sport. He quit once before rejoining the team, and soon stopped training in the off-season. Finally, at the end of his freshman year, after seven years of training, Reives put away his running spikes to focus on academics. For him, Olympic gold had lost its luster.

Especially after the hype and coverage of the 2004 Athens Olympics, turning down such a chance at international acclaim seems unimaginable. For Reives and others, however, the prospect of Olympic success isn't quite enough: According to the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports, 50 percent of competitive student athletes quit their sports by early adolescence in favor of school, social life or after-school jobs. Regardless, these students' remarkable aspirations have left an indelible mark on their lives.

Olympic aspirations

Junior Yao Xu's earliest taste of Olympic dreams came while competing in his first table-tennis tournament. Nervous and flustered, a nine-year-old Xu arrived at the Junior Olympic competition in Virginia with few expectations and no paddle. He played his best with a borrowed paddle, and to the surprise of all, won his first two events. It was then that Xu knew that he had the makings of an Olympian.

Xu's ambitions led him immediately to a committed training program. "If you have the time, you practice: Friday afternoons, Saturday mornings, Sunday nights," he says. "I played against my teammates, my coaches, even a robot."

After successfully competing in the Junior Olympics, Reives saw the Olympics as the next logical step. For Reives, though, the realization of his promise came later in his athletic career. "My first year, all I wanted was to quit, I did so badly," he says. But he kept running until he saw improvement. "I just kept getting better. Then the third year, I really started winning."

Reives' athletic ascension was not without repercussions. At 7:00 p.m., after his Junior Olympic teammates had thrown in their towels for the night, Reives tore up the track for an extra hour. At the end of his first season of rigorous competition, Reives took up weight training to keep in shape.

For senior Tencia Lee, this sense of commitment drives her to compete in wushu, a Chinese martial art. In 2002, Lee was a competitor in the International Kuoshu (Wushu) Championships, where she placed sixth in one event and third in two others. After two years and hours of weekly practice, Lee returned to the competition in 2004 to receive a first and second place. Fulfillment like this validates the six-day weeks Lee now spends on her sport, she says.

Success and sacrifice

Training is complicated by the fact that most competitive student athletes have other serious pursuits in addition to their sports. Beyond school and wushu, Lee has a passion for acting and singing, but after one show, Blair theatre exited the picture because of her commitment to wushu.

For Reives, the tradeoff was basketball. As training grew increasingly intense, Reives quit his basketball team to concentrate his energies on track.

Senior Max Czapanskiy, a fencer who hopes to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, has faced similar sacrifices, and found that they are a small price to pay for an opportunity at the toughest competition his sport has to offer. "I can't hold down a job during the school year," he says ruefully. "I miss a lot of parties, but the Olympics are just a whole new level."

Joe Madero, a coordinating administrator for youth soccer's Olympic Developing Program, sees the same dedicated spirit in a lot of his athletes. "They have a vision and a goal of reaching the highest level of play they can get to, and they're motivated by that," he explains.

Initially, Reives, too, committed to a hectic schedule of training and competition with enthusiasm. "I was young, and I knew I was fast enough," he explains. But as years wore on, Reives began to second-guess his choice. "I didn't have a lot of time. I was getting home at 10:00 p.m. every night," he recalls. "I needed to focus on school." Reives was not alone in the strain he felt as he grappled with school and increasingly demanding levels of competition; in the summer of 2004, Xu also opted to halt his table-tennis training for academics.

In spite of it all

For Xu, however, the decision to take a break from table tennis came with its own share of trepidation. This, combined with the enjoyment he derives from table-tennis, has led to the decision to rejoin the sport in the near future.

Reives, too, will always have a love of his sport, and for him, reconciling a desire to run with academic constraints may not be impossible. Although he has no intentions of rejoining the District's Junior Olympic team, Reives hopes to resume his sport on a less intense level by joining the Blair track team in the spring.

Like Reives, Czapanskiy refuses to forsake his passion for fencing. He rattles off the formidable list of fencing injuries he's sustained over the past two years: Pulled hamstring, pulled back, broken shin; for him, they pale in comparison to the thrill of anticipation, a sentiment Lee shares wholeheartedly. "It's just the prospect of participating in something that is as meaningful as the Olympics," she says. "I may never make it, but for me, it's an important thing to reach for."

Pria Anand. Pria is a senior. She loves Silver Chips, movies and, most likely, you. More »

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