By MELISSA TORRE
It’s an unusually cloudy Thursday, as the second major hurricane of the semester, Hurricane Matthew, is making it’s way up Florida’s east coast. Fortunately, like Hermine, it is nothing serious for the city of Tampa: just rain and a gloomy feeling in the air.
After making my way into Martinez I quietly find a table as I try to not disturb the girls on the soccer team from studying. There I wait for cross country runner Claudia Cancello, who says over text “I’m parking now.”
Within minutes Cancello appears through the big glass doors and proceeds to make her way over to the table where I am sitting. The first thing I notice about Cancello is her voice, shy but after a minute you could hear the cheerfulness and the pride that comes when talking about the sport.
Cancello, a senior, has been an exceptional runner for the Spartans since her freshman year, according to head coach Jarett Slaven. This season, Cancello is already off to a breakout start, finishing in the top 10 at the Louisville Invite in the 5000 M. Overall, Cancello finished seventh with a time of 18:21.59.
“I was just trying to stay calm and believe in myself,” Cancello said. “So I kept telling myself ‘you got this keep going,’ because in prior races it can get tough, and you think about giving up. So I was just telling myself not to give up.”
Cancello’s work ethic and leadership skills are a big key to her success on and off the field, according to Slaven. The distance runner not only balances school work and practice, but she also holds a part-time job as a hostess at On Swann.
“She’s a very determined young lady,” Slaven said. “She’s not afraid of hard work, she’s a leader, and she’s fearless. And that’s what you gotta be to be a distance runner.”
Cancello is co-captain for the Spartans along with twin sister Elaina. Most would think that competing not only against a sibling, but your twin, would result in some rivalry, but Cancello actually uses her sister as a way to stay focused and motivated.
During the summer it’s hard to remain motivated to run and train each morning, but having Elaina there pushes her to keep focused even during off season, according to Cancello.
“I feel really lucky that I always have her,” Cancello said. “And we always work together so it makes it a lot easier.”
During practice the team focuses on improving — endurance, speed, strength, and strategy. Whether the team is at Flat Woods Trails in Dover, or practicing on campus, the team trains together.Cancello finds that as co-captain, she must keep her teammates motivated at all times.
“You got to always make sure the girls stay motivated,” Cancello said. “And that they aren’t getting wrapped up in other things.”
Looking forward to the rest of the season, Cancello has not only the team goal of making Nationals this year, but a personal goal for her final year of collegiate track. After just missing top 40 last year, Cancello hopes to be an All-American Athlete.
After finishing 44th last year and just missing the cut, Cancello says she now knows the goal is attainable and is more determined than ever before.
“I was so bummed, but I was still really excited because I was so close,” Cancello said. “So I knew this year would be the year.”
Melissa Torre can be reached at email@example.com