Gresham said she’s dreamed of the day her son C.J. would take an interest in running, but she never envisioned things would turn out quite like they have.
At just eight years old, C.J. Gresham recently qualified for the Amateur Athletics Union Junior Olympics in the 400-meter dash. The Junior Olympics will be held in Houston July 30-Aug. 5.
C.J. competed at the district meet in Montgomery at Alabama State University, where he won in the 100, took second in the 200 and third in the 400. Those showings allowed him to go to nationals in Knoxville at the University of Tennessee. C.J. qualified for the Junior Olympics with his second-place showing in the 400 with a time of 1:22.
“I’m just ecstatic,” said Tracy, who now lives in Anniston with C.J. and her husband Clay. “We’re all proud of him. One day, he asked me to run with him, and I said ‘Sure I will run with you.’ I have waited for that day to have my son say ‘Will you run with me?’ I love to run, and now my son loves to run. I just couldn’t wait to have that moment. We’re all proud of him.”
C.J. gives credit to his youth track coach Sam Green for helping train him.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “I had to train at Bains Gap Mountain (in Anniston), and Coach Green really helped me out. He has us running routes. We’ve got 16 kids going (to the Junior Olympics). They’re older kids. I’m the youngest one going.”
Green coaches track at Saks and teaches P.E. at the elementary school, where he first met C.J. Despite being undersized, Green said he noticed early on that C.J. had more than enough talent to compete on the track.
“I asked him to tell his mom and dad to get in contact with me because I would like for him to run track for me this summer,” Green said. “They agreed, and C.J. came out and made a remarkable turnaround in his running form and his speed. He’s still getting better and better at each track meet we attend.
“I’m very excited for him. For an 8-year-old to make the Junior Olympics, it’s a big accomplishment. Early in life, a lot of kids don’t get to do something that big. They may see it on TV or hear about it, but for him to experience it at this early of an age, it’s a real big accomplishment.”
Green said Tracy had told him she used to run track and thought her son could become a distance runner. Green tried C.J. out with distance events, but after a week he “thought (C.J.) was more of a sprinter.”
“When I started training him more and more at practice, I started noticing with his style of running turning into that of a sprinter,” Green said. “I told his mom and dad he was a natural sprinter. The way he runs, he’s a natural 200 runner. He hits the curves harder than any 8-year-old I know. He comes out of the curve with a full stride, and he’s a very disciplined kid. You have to be very disciplined to run the 200 and the 400. You can’t just go out there and run.”
Green said he doesn’t discriminate while training his youth team. The kids, who range from ages 8-18, participate in the same drills, including training runs on Bains Gap Mountain.
“I’m more of a coach who works on technique and mechanics,” Green said. “I believe you can be naturally fast all your life, but unless you have that proper training, you’ll be just another runner. The only difference is I may give my younger kids more time to complete a certain drill, but day in and day out they are the same drills.”
One thing Green changed with C.J.’s form was how he holds his shoulders and points his knees. Since those changes, Green said C.J. is now “running the track much faster without tiring himself out.”
Green said he encourages all the kids’ parents he’s training to participate with them when they run Bains Gap, a three-mile mountain with 45-degree inclines on each end.
“I like to have as much parent participation as possible,” he said. “It’s very important at such a young age. It increases a kid’s confidence.”