Young athletes from Tampa headed to Junior Olympics

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — While eyes are on the Tokyo Olympics, a group of youngsters in Tampa are focusing on their own Olympic ambitions.

Twenty-five members of Citrus Parks’s VAST Sports Development track team have qualified for the Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympics in Houston. The group is led by Coach Sherman Armstrong.

At the facility, Armstrong trains children as young as five all the way up to professional athletes.

“We pride ourselves on truly being coaches. To have the patience for our little ones as they grow up, and we see them learn new things,” Armstrong said.

He praises the young ones who have put in the work to reach the national stage. Some days, the athletes will work on strength training, but they also spend time on the outside track.

“We’re on the track. We have to deal with heat. We have to deal with rain and so many things we can’t control,” Armstrong explained.

One of those Junior Olympic athletes is Christian Cleary who will race in the 800-meter sprint.

“I love the kick at the end. You get to finish that last part even though you’re tired. It’s just the after feeling. Even if you get last place, you still feel good because you tried your hardest,” Cleary said.

Hurdles won’t stop Nia Armstrong and Marvin Pierrelus who soar as they race in the 80 meter hurdles. While the hurdles are her favorite, Nia is competing in the pentathlon.

“Five events which is long jump, high jump, shot put, 80 meter hurdles and the 800,” she said.

Sisters 13-year-old Nyla and 9-year-old Aliyah Gamble are going after a few medals at the Junior Olympics. One of their events is the lesser-known race walk. Racers must keep one foot on the ground at all times.

“There’s a lot more rules, and it’s way more tiring,” said Nyla. “It looks easy and silly, but it’s not at all. It’s really hard.”

The AAU Junior Olympics takes place in Houston, Texas from July 28 to Aug. 7. These games go beyond track and field. Athletes from sports like wrestling, field hockey, karate, swimming, taekwondo, baton twirling, field hockey, and pickleball will gather to showcase their talents.

“It’s a reflection of the work they’ve put in over a period of time,” said Coach Sherman.

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