It’s not every day a budding young track athlete is afforded the opportunity to meet one of the sports all-time greats.
Ten-year-old Jade Lenton is about to embark on a journey to one of the most prestigious track and field events in North America, where she will get the opportunity to meet 10-time Olympic medalist Carl Lewis.
Jade will compete at the 36th annual Hershey’s Track and Field Games in Hershey, Penn. on Aug. 3.
Qualifying in the 200-metre sprint with a time of 30.21 seconds, the Maple Ridge runner is one of 480 athletes who beat out the thousands of others looking for a spot at the highly competitive track meet for kids ages nine to 14 years old.
While qualifying is an accomplishment all on its own, for Jade, the road has not been as smooth as hoped.
Just more than five weeks ago, the young sprinter felt a tweak in her left ankle while competing in the B.C. provincials. Jade was cruising to victory in the 600m final when she felt a tweak in her right heel.
“Technically, you could see she was deteriorating,’” said her father Andrew, who watched from the sidelines in Nanaimo.
“As soon as she crossed the finish line, she collapsed, screaming.”
A trip to the emergency room on the Island revealed damage to her Achilles tendon.
As Jade has grown, unfortunately not all the bones, muscles, and tendons do so at the same rate. A tear in her right heel resulted as the tendons pulling away from the bone.
“It’s not a common injury in kids,” said her father, who also serves as the head coach of the Golden Ears Athletics track and field club.
“My first reaction was that it could be career-ending.”
But fortunately for Jade, it was a setback that required mostly rest, coupled with physiotherapy.
Once the swelling went down, the tendons reattached to the bone, and with proper treatment, she is back training.
For Jade, the chance to compete in Hershey is a step in what she hopes is a long career in track.
“It would be awesome if I could one day qualify for the Olympics,” she offers.
She has bloodlines on her side. Her coach and dad is a former Canadian national team track athlete who was an All-American while he attended Simon Fraser University. He also competed while on scholarship at the University of Tennessee. Andrew Lenton is also a former B.C. junior record holder in the 1,500m, 3,000m, and 5,000m events.
Jade’s mother Alana is a former national NAIA 800m champion and was All-American while at SFU.
But Jade is keeping a level head about her future. Right now, she said it’s more about having fun and enjoying the moment.
“This is going to be a great experience, getting to meet so many other athletes, so I’m just going to enjoy it as much as a I can.”
It’s the same approach her dad stresses. Andrew said he’s encouraged his daughter to play a wide range of sports, from soccer to lacrosse and hockey. And her natural talents are evident. She plays select soccer and novice A1 boy’s lacrosse.
Jade attributes much of her success to her family.
“It’s helps that I get a lot of one-on-one coaching with my dad,” she notes.
Andrew said Jade’s natural athletic ability was evident from the beginning. In her first year on the track, she qualified as an alternate for the event in Hershey.
With another year of experience, she was able to secure a spot.
“We were extremely proud when we found out she qualified,” said Andrew. “This is the most difficult team to make. This is the elite-of the-elite.”
Jade said while her injury kept her off her feet for about three weeks, she’s back up and running and feels better than ever. She said her goal is to make the final and place in the top seven. Her qualifying time of 30.21 seconds would put her in that group. Comparing to last year’s times, Jade’s recording would have put her in third place.
Regardless to the outcome, she stresses the goal is to just keep getting better with every race.
“I really enjoy all sports and especially track. I just love to race.”