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Fast friends

Fast Forward provides a supportive environment for youngsters who want to train hard for track and for life.

By JON WILSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 2, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Three young hurdlers showed off their injuries like raw badges of courage. Paul Britten, 11, had an elbow scrape after a tumble. It's easy to do when you race over barriers half as high as you are.

Robert Woodall, 10, boasted a leg scrape. Orhian Johnson, 11, didn't have a visible mark but wasn't about to be left out. "Pulled a hamstring," he said, touching the back of a thigh.

In these youngsters' minds, such minor ailments suggest effort and dedication, commodities they seem to have in abundance. All three qualified last weekend for the AAU Junior Olympics national meet.

They are among 35 members of the Fast Forward track club who qualified for the nationals in Orlando later this summer. In Junior Olympics events, youngsters 6 through 18 compete in age groups.

Johnson also qualified in the 200-meter race and Woodall did so in the long jump. Neither youngster claims a favorite event, though.

"I like both of them equally," said Johnson, granting an off-the-cuff interview. "If you don't like both the same amount, you won't run to your fullest in either one."

It seemed an erudite analysis coming from the mouth of an 11-year-old. But then hear 9-year-old middle distance runner Lorenzo Hogans II. He qualified in both the 800- and 1,500-meter runs.

"I go out at a good pace and I hold it," Hogans declared. "Then I keep getting faster each lap. Or I try to get faster each lap."

In its second year, Fast Forward works on more than athletic skills, said president Lorenzo S. Hogans, the distance runner's father.

"There's a myth that if you are athletic, you're dumb," the senior Hogans said. "Or if you're athletic, you don't have to put out academically."

One of the club's goals is to dispel such thinking, Hogans said. To that end, academics are emphasized. Tutoring sessions are organized and club leaders monitor report cards. Members aim for a 25 percent grade point average improvement each report period.

Some training sessions focus on maintaining healthy lifestyles and conflict resolution.

"And conduct is a must," Hogans said.

Fast Forward has five coaches and strong support from parents, Hogans said. Many come to the club's weekday practices. Sessions started in March, running from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. By June, heat indexes hover near 100 degrees.

But the youngsters come regardless of the weather. The club has 92 on its membership list.

Some are still struggling to be strong competitors in their events. Others may be on their way to bright athletic futures.

Ashlee Kidd is one of the latter. Just 14, Kidd has completed her freshman year in St. Petersburg High School's International Baccalaureate program. She finished second in the 400-meter race in the state track meet. She took sixth at 200 meters. The accomplishments landed her on the Times All-County track team.

Kidd's 400-meter time of 56.13 seconds was one of the state's top times this year, and among the better ones nationally for high school girls.

"She has Olympics written all over her," Hogans said.

Kidd qualified for the Junior Olympics nationals in both the 200 and 400, and in Fast Forward's intermediate girls 4-by-400 relay team, which also includes Osha Bryant, Nadia Covington and Mallory Woodall.

Like her teammates, Kidd tends to shrug off her success.

"I just do it," she said. "It's hard to say why I like running."

On the other hand, Erin Oliver, 9, who qualified in the long jump and 100- and 200-meter races, has no doubt about her motivation.

"When I run, I feel like I can't be stopped," she said.

- For information about Fast Forward, call 864-6649.

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