Senior track star wins Leader of Tomorrow Award
When Juan Arango decided to try out for the track team back in eighth grade, the Massapequa native had no idea that he’d be one of a dozen athletes chosen to receive a Leader of Tomorrow Award at the 26th annual U.S. Air Force Hispanic Games this year. The special ceremony took place at a track and field invitational held at the Armory Track in Washington Heights at the beginning of the year.
Candidates must be team captains, of Hispanic descent and have a grade point average of 90 or higher. Currently a senior, Arango was aware that coach Rich Degnan had nominated him.
“My coach mentioned to me that he’d put me up for the award and said he didn’t know if I was going to get it, but he said it was worth a shot,” Arango explained. “That was a few weeks before that meet. The week before the meet, I was at practice when he congratulated me on getting the award. And he said he hoped that I knew that it meant a lot because a lot of really influential athletes before me had received this award. He said it was nice to see me get it.”
Arango is a middle-distance sprinter, primarily participating in 300-meter, 400-meter and 4×4 relay races. He has broken several school records, some dating back 50 years. Among his responsibilities as captain are leading sprinters in warmup exercises and teaching younger members of the team how to properly stretch before a meet. He is a three-time All-County athlete and has earned one All-Long Island and two All-Conference selections. Degnan sees his captain’s combination of athletic ability and a personal drive to succeed that has inspired other members of the track team to succeed as key components that led to the coach nominating him for this award in the first place.
“Juan has worked extremely hard and become a fantastic captain for us,” Degnan said. “He does all the little things that a champion needs to do when no one is watching.”
Arango runs in both the winter and spring track seasons, which start right after Thanksgiving and run through June. His training starts months before that, usually right around the time the school year begins. Practices last two to three hours, Monday through Saturday up until the start of meets, which usually fall on Saturday mornings. When he and his teammates aren’t dealing with the cold and dark that comes with days growing shorter in the fall and winter, the senior also puts in extra work at the gym with one of his coaches. While working this hard requires constant motivation, he understands that it’s what needs to be done in order to compete at an elite level.
“Going to practices day after day after day is a challenge. Just all that hard work you have to go through. Plus having the mentality to get up at 5:30 in the morning or going to the gym to put in that extra work that’s going to help me out in the long run,” he admitted. “The section we’re in [Section VIII] is probably the most competitive one on the Island. We race against some really good teams. I always push myself to do better because I want to be at the top and be one of those runners that people look up to. My favorite part about racing is making the memories with my team and working together on the goal of trying to win a county championship and qualify for states, which I recently did thankfully.”
Ironically, when Arongo tried out for track in junior high school, it was only on the advice of a good friend who was convinced that the Columbian runner’s speed would be an asset to the team.
“In seventh grade, I was playing baseball and my best friend was running track and he said I should join the track team because I was so fast. I figured that I would give it a try,” he said. “So I joined the team and started separating myself from the rest of the group. When freshman year came around, I wasn’t sure if I was going to run track again. I was thinking that I wanted to be a football player.”
While Arongo gave up baseball for track because both sports’ seasons overlapped, he continued playing football in his freshman and sophomore years before taking off as a junior and returning to the gridiron as a senior. He played cornerback, wide receiver and also returned kicks and punts for a Massapequa team that defied expectations this year.
“This year, I was really happy because we were projected to go winless, but we wound up going 7-3 or 8-3. We made the playoffs and played at Hofstra,” Arongo said.
The fleet-footed sprinter counts math as a favorite subject and would ideally like to major in business management with a health care-related minor at either Molloy College, Southern Connecticut State University or Stony Brook University. In the meantime, he is cherishing his time running track for Massapequa, while taking his captaincy very seriously.
“In my junior year, my coach told me that I was going to be a captain. That year was also when I started leading the workouts,” he said. “It felt great but I was nervous at the same time because I had people looking up to me. I take that very seriously because I like to set a good example. I like having a positive and hard-working attitude around my team. You have to keep it up and can’t be slacking, because you don’t want people to pick up your bad habits.”