Juan Zeledón was 12 years old when he first discovered he had a gift: Not only could run faster than all of his friends, but he could also beat anyone else who challenged him to a race. That’s when Juan decided to become a sprinter, despite his mother’s leeriness.
It wasn’t long before Juan was leaving his small agricultural town of Somoto, near the northern border with Honduras, and traveling as far away as Managua for competitions. When he won those, he started going even further afield to compete internationally in nearby Honduras and Venezuela.
But when the Nicaraguan Olympic Committee picked him as one of six athletes to represent his country in the Beijing Olympics, Juan, 22, began to have second thoughts.
“He was very nervous and unmotivated; it was raining hard here and he didn’t want to go,” said his grandmother Gregoria Espinoza. “But I talked him into it and now he’s happy he went. He says God and his grandmother gave him the motivation to try for it.”
Espinoza says the decision to go was made easier by the fact that Juan’s neighborhood friend and training partner, Jessica Aguila, was also chosen to go to Beijing to represent Nicaragua in the 100-meter sprint for women’s track.
The two of them trained hard, the grandmother said, running in the mornings and the afternoons, and not in optimal training conditions.
“The field is in bad condition here; sometimes he had to run in the mud or on the street when it’s raining,” Espinoza said.
She said all of Somoto will be glued to their televisions on Monday, when her grandson is scheduled to compete. He might not take home a medal, she said, but running has already helped him set his dreams high in life.
“Somoto is very humble and we are poor, but Juan is a student and he is going to become a lawyer,” Espinoza said.