Athlete of Week: Mendoza piles up miles for Socastee

socxc-mendozaThere’s a scene from the movie “Forrest Gump” that perfectly describes this week’s Mammy’s Kitchen Athlete of the Week. After Gump takes off across the country, someone asks him why? His answer: “I just felt like running.”

Socastee senior Keahi Mendoza not only feels like running to help lead the Braves cross country team, but to set a high standard for himself and his teammates. During the off-season, Mendoza ran more than 500 miles – farther than the distance of Myrtle Beach to Orlando. Like Gump, his career cross country distances and out-of-season training probably span from coast to coast.

“This year was much more significant compared to that of previous years. I ran over 530 miles with my closest friend, pretty much my brother, Nicholas LeFever,” Mendoza said of his teammate. “We woke up every morning and ran with our team on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, as well as every other day of the week.”

Along with friend Jonathan Kinsey, the duo ran early and late in the day to better avoid the heat and humidity. Mendoza and LeFever also attended a running camp at Florida State University. The biggest challenge, according to Mendoza, was adding weight training and turning down “warm, tasty Cinnabons.”

All of the hard work has come to fruition this fall with success in local and region races. Earlier in the season at the Quad Meet at Socastee, Mendoza was the medalist with a time of 17:07 even with a rainy surface. At the Pee Dee Classic in Florence, Mendoza was one of the top finishers with a time of 17:41 on a muddy track. Socastee took home the team title at the event. Last Tuesday, Mendoza helped lead the Braves to a third-place finish at a seven-team Carolina Forest meet.

Socastee cross country coach Robb Urbaniak commented on Mendoza as both a team leader and a great captain for the Braves.

“Keahi has risen to be an outstanding team leader this year. He’s always asking what more he can do because he knows it will benefit our team,” Urbaniak said. “This is his second year as captain of our team so the guys have a lot of respect for him and what he’s built.”

Mendoza said that both Urbaniak and Randy Melko have been a huge influence on him, but he didn’t always feel always that way.  After his sophomore year, Mendoza nearly quit running after challenging and going against their advice. After that time, his mental style and running style both progressed, and it was like a light bulb turning on for Mendoza.

“I don’t know what clicked, but something about me changed. I didn’t question anything the said. I did what they recommended and followed their instructions,” Mendoza said. “Everything became a breeze and everything including my times went as planned. I’m thankful for what they do and what they have done.”

Urbaniak added that it was the tenacity of Mendoza to build himself into a high-class runner, and has not where to go but up from here as he has made tremendous strides in running.

“Keahi is a tough competitor because he hasn’t always had success. He’s fought for the past five years to achieve success in cross country. I’ve watched him grow from a brand new runner when he first joined our team o the leader he is today, and he appreciates every mile it took to get him there,” Urbaniak said. “He’s earned his place as one of the top competitors in our region.”

During the spring, Mendoza runs track in the 3200 meters, the 4×400 relay, and the 2000-meter steeplechase because those events challenge him to race at a higher plateau. He also has a desire to possibly play tennis for the Braves. Not only does Mendoza run for Socastee, but he also has competes in the Battle of the Border with the Grand Strand Running Club, the USATF races at each level, and the Footlocker South Region Race held at the McAlpine Park in North Carolina.

Mendoza hopes to continue building toward a possible cross country scholarship in college. He said he has looked at both Anderson College and Presbyterian. He would like to run, and then transfer to Clemson to study engineering (electrical or mechanical) and continue running with the Tigers. If Mendoza sticks with his simple plan to just keep running, there’s no telling how far he can go.

Photo by Joel Beachum

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