Jaiden Melendrez’s focus is laser-like. It’s apparent to see.
Exhibit A: last Tuesday’s Region 9 cross country championships.
Melendrez, a senior at Desert Hills High, was in a car accident earlier in the day. His back was sore during the race, and he trailed Hurricane’s Caleb Armstrong by a few lengths heading into the final stretch.
He still won.
“His mind’s in the right place, he’s always focused,” Melendrez’s teammate Spencer Ford said.
Melendrez was already one of the elite runners in Region 9 and all of 3A last year and the year before. This year he’s taking it up a notch as he sets his sights on Wednesday’s state meet at Sugarhouse Park in Salt Lake City.
A renewed focus and a sour taste from last year are part of the reasons why.
“There’s a saying, ‘To reach the top you have to be at the bottom,’ so I think last year was the bottom, now I’m making my way to the top,” he said.
Melendrez went through some rough patches last year involving his family. It pulled some of his focus away from running. Desert Hills cross country head coach Logan Fielding said Melendrez had a very long junior year.
“For practices and stuff I probably wouldn’t get a good workout in and it would affect how I did the next race.” Melendrez said.
Last year was disappointing by Melendrez’s standards, which include qualifying for the Foot Locker Regional and National Championships in December.
Still, he finished second in region and third at state even with the peripheral distractions.
“It hit hard during the track season, but for him to kind of finish it off winning the 1600 and 3200-meter races again at state was kind of what propelled him into the summer,” Fielding said.
This year Melendrez has established himself as the top runner in the region, holding off Armstrong, an upstart sophomore move-in from Idaho.
As Melendrez fell behind on the final lap, Ford, in third place, caught up to him.
“Spencer’s really unique in a lot of ways, and Jaiden’s mentioned on a number of occasions that Spencer’s pushed him like when we do hill workouts and things like that,” Fielding said.
Melendrez caught up to and passed Armstrong, beating him by two seconds for first place. The other change from last year to this year is everyone’s chasing Melendrez, instead of Melendrez chasing the since-graduated Pine View runner Nick Hill.
“When you’re a chaser you’re racing based on how other people are racing, but when you’re being chased you go out there and try to run your hardest,” Melendrez said.
He said he likes to shoot out of the gate and run a fast first mile, hold steady in the second mile, then throw it into sixth gear for the closing stretch.
This isn’t where Melendrez’s sheer amount of training necessarily takes over, though it does help. This is actually when his quiet demeanor takes over.
Fielding said that unlike previous Thunder cross country captains, Melendrez isn’t loud or the life of the party, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“With that big target on the back, he’s really started to thrive on that. It’s not cocky, its just a quiet confidence that he has,” Fielding said.
Melendrez wasn’t always the star runner he is now. When he was younger, he was about to play football. Melendrez smiled when he thought about it.
Connect with reporter Patrick Carr on Twitter @PatrickCarr_ and on Facebook at Facebook.com/PatrickJosephCarr1/ or call him at 435-231-3834.