Excelling in Oz

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Five area athletes recently traveled all the way to Australia as part of the combined New Mexico/Texas team that participated in the Down Under International Games, finding success in a pair of races and track and field events along the way.

JARED GARCIA of Belen placed first in the 15-17 age division of the 2013 Australia 5K All-American Race in Brisbane, Australia, in July. Garcia’s New Mexico/Texas team of distance runners placed first in the event.

Belen High School’s Jared Garcia and Los Lunas High’s Mariah Gallegos, Merissa Begay and Jordan Benavidez participated in the 2013 Gold Coast Airport Marathon 5.7-kilometer Challenge and the 2013 Australia 5-kilometer All-American Race, both held in Brisbane, Australia, in early July.

LLHS’ Randy Moore ran in three events at the 2013 Down Under Track and Field Championships at Griffin University in Brisbane.

The Down Under Games feature competition in three sports — cross country, track and field and volleyball — and attracts athletes from the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

Los Lunas cross country coach Larry Padilla, who coached the New Mexico/Texas distance runners, said the trip was a success.

“I think more than anything else, it’s exciting to see the kids in a different environment and see them experience things they’ve never experienced before,” he said. “We had some kids who’d never flown before, never been out of New Mexico and never seen the ocean.

“It was nice because we had kids from all over New Mexico, with different backgrounds,” Padilla said.

Garcia was the top-placing athlete for the distance runners in the 5K All-American race, helping the New Mexico/Texas team place first overall.

He finished sixth overall and first in his age group, with a time of 17:54.

Garcia also placed 11th overall out of more than 3,000 runners in the Gold Coast 5.7-kilometer Challenge and sixth in his 15-17 age group, with a time of 18:47.

Benavidez, Gallegos and Begay all finished closely in the Gold Coast 5.7 km challenge, finishing 149th, 151st and 152nd out of more than 3,500 runners in their respective age groups.

Benavidez and Gallegos, who ran in the 18-20 category, finished with times of 31:10 and 31:18, respectively, while Begay, finished the 15-17 division with a time of 31:20.

Gallegos and Benavidez also helped the New Mexico/Texas team to a second-place finish in the 5K All-American race, finishing 39th and 36th overall, with times of 28:42 and 26:19, respectively.

Benavidez’ finish was good for eighth in the 18-20 age group. Begay did not participate in the 5K race.

On the track side, Moore finished first in the men’s 18-19 4×400-meter relay with the team of Mason Reed, Bryan Schaake and Dustin Swift.

The relay team finishes with a time of 3:30.63.

Moore also placed third in the high jump with a jump of 1.80 meters and seventh in the men’s 18-19 400-meter dash with a time of 52.20.

Padilla said the trip, his seventh as a coach but first in four years, was a real bonding opportunity for his team.

“This group of boys and girls totally bonded,” he said. “They really spent time together. Usually, the kids get into small groups but this group seemed to stay together. It was nice to have a group that got along so well.’

In addition to the competition, the athletes got to sightsee and shop in Australia as well as in Hawaii, where the group stopped off.

“Hawaii was very exciting too, but talking to kids at the end of trip, they seemed to really enjoy Australia,” said Padilla.

Padilla said the opportunity to run in the Australian races would help all involved.

“It was a good opportunity for them to run year- round,” he said. “Most of them didn’t get a break in training so they got to see more what it’s like when you train year-round and don’t have a break.

Padilla said the group only had one practice together but that the runners were all used to being on their own training schedule. He said the trip Down Under would be a big help to them all going forward.

“If they want to run in college, this will give them some confidence, especially since they’ve done so well against kids from the U.S. in an event like this,” he said.