Dream come true for Junior Olympics athletes

July 10, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
A unique group of young athletes is heading to the Junior Olympics next month. They are members of a track club based in the Tenderloin -- one of San Francisco's toughest neighborhoods.

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UPDATE: Mac Can Do will be holding a fundraiser on July 29. Information can be found at the bottom of the story.

These kids dream of becoming national champs.

"Since I was in second grade I loved playing tag and stuff," says Barbara Nguyen who is now 13 and has gone from playing tag to excelling at long jump. She is a member of Mac Can Do, the first non-profit track club based in the Tenderloin.

"I wanted to venture off into somewhere where a lot of people didn't want to go because I was an at-risk kid myself growing up in Jersey City, New Jersey," says Nguyen.

Robert McDaniels is the team founder, coach and namesake. He is a city recreation director who spends evenings and weekends training his kids at Kezar Stadium or taking them on the road to local, regional and national competitions.

"I was a former hurdler at San Francisco State. I missed the Olympics -- the Barcelona Olympics -- by a hundredth-tenth of a second in the hurdles," says McDaniels.

Years later he touched the Olympic flame as a San Francisco torchbearer in the run-up to the Beijing games.

He has also come full circle by grooming potential Olympians. For the first time in Mac Can Do's five-year history, more than one of its athletes has qualified to compete at the Junior Olympics, also known as the Nationals. Eleven team members are heading to the meet in Iowa next month.

"I'm really nervous about it because those girls are really big and buff and fast," he says.

Twelve-year-old Joseph Morrison has qualified in the 200-meter hurdles.

"I've been doing track since I was five. I just got attached to it," says Morrison. "It's like another life to me."

The club is year-round. The young athletes, ages five to 16, hear about it by word of mouth. There is no fee to join. The only charge for parents is their participation.

"We have embraced so many different cultures in this track club, which is good for my son because he learns about diversity, how to get along with everybody and it's made him such a good kid," says mother Angela Morrison.

It has also been a learning experience for the Asian athletes who are often in the minority at track meets. Once they start running, jumping and pushing hard, they break through barriers.

"It's not a racial thing, it's not a culture thing, it' an athlete thing now,"

Coach McDaniels estimates says it will cost about $5,000 to send his kids to the Nationals. That is not a lot of money unless you only have a little, which is the case for this club.

Mac Can Do does receive a city grant, but it can't be used for track meets. The team will hold a fundraiser at the end of the month.

Coach McDaniels is determined to help his kids achieve.

"I want to jump further and I want to beat those girls," says Nguyen. "I don't want to lose, I don't want to get like 8th place. I want to get first."

The coach is still working on setting up that fundraiser. In the meantime, if you would like to donate to the kids, you can send your donations to:

MacCanDo Tenderloin Youth Track Club
Checking acct: 3404913837
Chase Bank (formally Washington Mutual Bank)

MacCanDo Food Extravaganza - Help send our student athletes to the Nationals
Date: July 29 (Wed)
Time: 12 p.m. - 3 p.m.
Place: Boeddeker Park (Eddy + Jones St.)
Minimum donation: $10/plate
To order: Call Coach Rob at (510) 375-2380 or e-mail your order to mcdtytc@yahoo.com by July 28 (Tue)
Flyer for the event

LINK: MacCanDo Tenderloin Youth Track Club

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