Puerto Rican athlete trades track for farm

By Jorge J. Muñiz Ortiz

Barranquitas, Puerto Rico, May 14 (EFE).- Jose Melendez, who holds the Puerto Rican record in the 20km race walk and hoped to compete at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, has swapped his track shoes for boots and a machete to work on the family farm here.

Several elements went into the decision, including an injury that kept him out of the 2019 Pan American Games and the birth eight months ago of his son, Liam.

“We are devoting ourselves to agriculture because I have a child to support and because sport didn’t provide me with enough to live and I needed economic support,” Jose told Efe Friday at the farm in the central town of Barranquitas that bears the name of his father, Luis Melendez.

“My father was the one who taught me love for the land and what the land can give us,” he said, referring to the spread where he and several of his siblings grow bananas, pumpkin, papaya, peppers, taro and lemons.

Even so, the 26-year-old has not abandoned his dream of taking part in the Olympics.

It was two years ago when Melendez set the Puerto Rican record for the 20km race walk at the Oceania Race Walking Championships in Australia.

But injury denied him the chance to compete in the Pan Am Games and the events scheduled for last year were canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Then came the baby, being a father and a family name,” Jose recounts.

Melendez became involved in athletics at the age of 10 while attending Federico Degetau School in Barranquitas, where track coach Ramon Nieves has “discovered” as many as 40 youngsters who went on to have success in the sport.

One day, Nieves put Melendez and some classmates through the paces and spotted Jose’s potential.

“That year I competed in Barranquitas and a year later I was (Puerto Rico’s) national champion,” Melendez said, acknowledging that he initially had no interest in race walking.

Melendez has learned that like sport, agriculture requires discipline.

“If you don’t have that, you won’t get anywhere,” he said, adding that his aim now is to become “one of the best farmers, as I was one of the best athletes in Puerto Rico.”

No matter the future course of his career in sport, Melendez said that he expects to remain a farmer “as long as my legs support me and God wills.”

On the athletic front, he is looking toward the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

“My plans right now are to make a little money and that I will be fine to resume a complete training cycle, which would be an Olympic cycle,” he said.

Noting that race-walkers tend to reach their peak between the ages of 28 and 32, Melendez said he is confident of having enough time to get back to his previous form and qualify for the 2024 Games. EFE


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