Yoan Prado takes a moment each morning to appreciate what the next 40 minutes of his life will feel like.
He can anticipate the crunch of the grass under his feet and the pounding of his heart against the fall Florida heat.
And what better feeling is there?
That’s where high school running begins for the LaBelle senior, who has hopes of competing for a Class 2A cross country championship in Tallahassee as well as the top time in the program’s history.
“It would be very good,” Prado said. “That’s where my future is. I can be a runner.”
He leaves his home just south of Clewiston, which sits on unincorporated land just miles from Lake Okeechobee, and begins to chase the life he’s searching for in the United States, away from the communist nation he left two years ago.
“He is very work driven,” LaBelle coach Jef Frost said of Prado, who has a 3.62 GPA. “Whatever was instilled, whatever he was raised to do in Cuba, has rubbed off. He’s a stud.”
Prado is one of two major holdovers from a very accomplished Cowboys running program that finished fourth in back-to-back seasons at the Class 2A championships.
He’s closing fast on the school’s career-best 5K mark of 15:57, which was accomplished by Caleb Baker in 2010 during a third-place performance at the Class 2A championships. This past Saturday, Prado ran a time of 16:11.47 at the North Port Invitational, which became the second best time in school history.
Problem is, he doesn’t have much time left. While Prado will graduate in 2017, he will surpass the age cut off of 19 years and 9 months for student-athletes who wish to participate in interscholastic sports in the FHSAA by the spring season.
Frost has commented that LaBelle could potentially file a foreign student waiver to have Prado compete in the spring season, but the suggestion hasn’t been met with much promise yet. So the coach has concentrated his efforts fully on this season.
“We went with the saying that every race would be important and he needed to be at the top at every race,” Frost said.
That means the last moments of Prado’s high school running career could be in Tallahassee during the state championships.
“This is really important now because this is my last season running,” said Prado, who hopes to earn a scholarship to college to continue his career. “I have to do all I can this year.”
Life in Cuba
Prado, 19, is a Cuban national who arrived with his stepmother and two young stepbrothers in Hendry County to join his father, Yudet. His father established and owns a trucking company in Clewiston.
He emigrated from the city of Camaguey, Cuba, where he was in the middle of his 11th grade year. When he arrived at LaBelle, he was placed in the 10th grade.
Prado said his father “claimed” him as a means to get him out of the country, but his mother and younger brother, whom he would some day like to relocate in the states, remain back in Cuba.
It was only three years ago that Prado was studying and training at EIDE, an academy for athletes in Cuba. He had been there since seventh grade, competing for the academy’s field hockey team.
At one point, he said, his program finished second in all of Cuba in a tournament.
But the country also had limited opportunities.
“You don’t have a future there,” he said. “You can’t do your best for anything.”
Landing in LaBelle
Prado dropped like a pin into Cowboy country. He spoke little to no English, and the only connection he had with anyone in the school was sports.
“When I come to the school, I was lost,” Prado said. “I didn’t know where I was.”
He gravitated to soccer, where he met some of his early friends in Enrique Jimenez and Omar Figueroa, but the fall was running season for the Cowboys and many of the players found themselves training with Frost in cross country.
Prado grew up competing in endurance sports — field hockey required a strong cardiovascular system — and it made sense to join cross country. But Frost “redshirted” him that first season out of respect for runners who started the season from Day 1.
“I thought I was doing the right thing,” Frost said.
Early on, however, the coach knew he had a special runner. Almost immediately, Prado positioned himself with the top five runners in practice.
“He was very quiet,” Frost said. “Of course, being a new kid and the language barrier has had some influence on that. But (Jimenez, Eduardo Benitez and Figueroa) told me, ‘This kid can run.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah.’”
By his junior year, Prado started to find his place. He spent two to three days a week after school studying English as a second language with teacher Johnathan Williams, who held a migrant tutoring program for students, and in the evening would run with the team.
Teachers inside the school, like Diane Raulerson and dean of students Ryan Harris, saw a hard working student willing to put in the effort.
“He was really quiet at first,” Harris said. “But everyone around him saw what kind of work he did.”
It wasn’t long before Prado became a vital part of the Cowboys running program. He won his first race in October at the St. John Neumann Celtic Invitational in 16:49, then followed with a third-place performance at the District 2A-12 meet and then a fifth-place outing at the Region 2A-3 championships.
States didn’t go as planned with a 46th place finish in 17:22, but Frost believes nerves played a factor.
“He was up the entire night, so he didn’t get that good of a race,” he said.
Prado walked out the door at 6 a.m. most days this summer and followed a variety of routes he created for himself around his home.
Most of them to him around local fields. His longest run was about 10 miles and on most days he covered no less than five miles.
Once cross country season began in August, Frost noticed the difference.
“We go through the workouts, he’s the hardest worker from beginning to end,” he said. “And he also has the stamina. He can still keep going. I had no doubt he could.”
It put Prado in the driver’s seat as competition started, against notable foes like Estero’s Arye Beck, Lely’s Josh Wagner and Fort Myers’ Sam Hordinski.
“It’s amazing to see someone come so far in two to three years,” Figueroa said. “I think he’s going to do big things.”
In five races, he’s won two — the Caloosahatchee and Hoptar invitationals — and finished no less than third in the others.
But more importantly, he’s run three times under 17 minutes and dropped his career best time by over 30 seconds on Saturday at North Port.
It’s an indication that Prado, who has generated interest from NAIA program Webber International in Babson Park, could potentially reach the golden-standard of a sub-16 minute 5K by the start of the postseason.
To him, it’s also a signal that his life in America is on the right path.
“I’m focused on state,” Prado said. “Every morning when I wake up I’m thinking about the race. How it was last year and how I can get better.”