After missing the end of track season and the opportunity to qualify for CIF due to an injury, Essien Gagnon, an incoming junior at SMHS, came back strong competing in AAU and USATF sanctioned race qualifying himself for both the AAU Junior Olympic Games in Iowa and the USATF National Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon, both held at the end of July.
To qualify for the AAU Olympic Games, Essien had to place in the top 6 of his division at the Region 23 Qualifier in Escondido, which he did. For the USATF National Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships, he had to, and did, place in the top 8 at the Southern California Association Qualifier in Whittier to move on to the Region 15 Qualifier in Lancaster where he also had to place in the top 8 to qualify for Eugene, which he did. When talking about those races, Essien said “With three qualifiers back-to-back over three weekends in 90+ degree weather, we were not running for time or PR, we were all running for placing because that is what we needed to move up–none of us PR’ed as far as I know.”
With the National Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships in Oregon July 24-30 and the AAU Junior Olympic Games in Iowa July 28-August 5, Essien had to make a choice and picked Oregon. “That was hard but at the same time easy to choose; I will be running at Hayward Field!! No way I am passing on this opportunity to do that for the first time at 15!” He still is considering trying to do both, weighing that against his need to get back and train for the next cross-country season. “With the cross-country season coming fast, I want to start to prepare for that. This is a new year and I want to run my best and go as far as I can, hoping I get to run at state and represent my school as a junior. I’ll have to make a decision in the next week or two though as I need to declare and make travel/lodging plans for Iowa if I ultimately decide to go.”
For now, Essien does some limited training with some of his teammates in the summer program at SMHS with the team coaches, but his focus is on his training for these non-CIF, club events with his club coach Kehinde “Kenny” Aladefa. With less than a month to go, Essien is training hard, leaving him little time for typical 15-year old summer time between that, his summer college level class, medical research project, his volunteer work at LA General three days a week, his teaching karate and karate training. “It is tough but I am focused and used to that grueling lifestyle–I have been competing in martial arts since I was 7, nationally since I was 10, and had weeks with 2 competitions, sometimes in different states.
It is hard but all worth it–bonus is that I will be used to the grind in college and later in life. Nothing comes without sacrifices” says Essien. Additionally, his mom says “There is nothing that will stop Essien. He walked before he was 9-month old and has never slowed down since, he sets goals and reaches them-he told me he would get his black belt before he was 15 and he actually did it by 13. He will give up a lot of what is normal to other teens to get where he wants to go so there is nothing to do but support him.”
Surmising, Essien concludes, “I am excited but scared – then I think that I am going to run at Hayward Field against the best in the country and nothing can take that away from me.”