It was as if Kemuel Santana’s body was telling him to stop running — stop doing something he loved.
From his freshman season to now, his senior year, the Decatur High School sprinter dreamed of being the best. But Santana has been sidelined by a hamstring injury or worse for all four years, injuries that forced him to miss practices and meets, postponing his dream longer and longer.
After developing a new body-care regimen with Decatur coaches Sam Hunt and Isaac Ochoa this year after a hamstring injury opened his 2017 season, Santana missed little time. As a result, he not only qualified for the state championships, he took home a state title in the 200-meter dash, third in the 400 and fourth in the 100 Saturday at the 4A state track and field championships at Mt. Tahoma High School.
Santana shattered the school record in all three races.
“I’m just happy to be here at state and healthy,” he said. “The hard work paid off, and I have my coaches Isaac Ochoa and Sam Hunt to thank.”
Despite opening his senior track season with the same hamstring injury that has plagued him at least once every season since his freshman year, Santana was more determined than ever to recover quickly.
The first thing he did was change his attitude.
Instead of allowing defeat to consume him, Santana worked harder than ever before to come back and make an impact on his final track season.
When he turned to his coaches for help, Ochoa and Hunt worked with Santana to take better care of his body.
“He is a true leader by example and deed,” Hunt said. “When it got tough for him because of injuries, he just kept pushing, and this year he was rewarded.”
Santana’s healing method of choice? Ice baths.
After every practice and regular season meet, Santana plunged into a tub of ice and cold water. He found it did the trick in helping his recovery time and his hamstring.
“It was either an ice bath every day,” Santana said. “My stretching became far more important and became an everyday thing. I learned how important those things are to keep my body in shape.”
The alone time in freezing water helped him physically, but it did even more for him mentally.
“It helped me get back to the mindset of being the best,” Santana said. “I got back to I could do it.”
The result was a dominant regular season and top finishes at the West Central District meet May 18.
He was also named Decatur High School 2017 Athlete of the Year.
Had Santana not spent any time at all on the injury list in the last four years, who is to know how many times he would appear in the Gator record books.
But Santana needed just one day to break three long-standing Decatur track records.
His first race was at 12 minutes, 20 seconds Saturday in the 100. While Santana finished fourth, his time of 10.64 seconds broke the 2008 school record of 10.67 set by Ezra John Griffey.
“I went in with the mindset I was going to win,” Santana said afterward. “I didn’t, but I just broke the school record.”
Santana didn’t have much time to bask in his accomplishment.
He ran the 400 just over an hour later. As he had in the 100, Santana started explosively. This time he took third with a time of 48.99.
For a second straight time, Santana shattered a Decatur record, this one set in 1988 by Larry Hoffman with a time of 49.03.
Santana waited two hours and 20 minutes before his final and favorite event, the 200. After his 100 race, Santana said he spent the day physically and mentally preparing for the 200.
The race started just before 3:44 p.m., and it belonged to Santana from the start. He won the state title for the race with a time of 21.35 seconds.
His title-winning 200 run broke the school record of 21.7 seconds posted in 1999 by Corey Smith.
“I’m happy to leave my legacy at the school,” Santana said. “After a rough start, this has been a great year.”
Despite years of injuries, because of his hard work, he is not only a state champion, he’s now a permanent standard in Decatur sprinting.
“My mindset was always the same: I’d rebound from it and become better,” Santana said. “My dream is to be the fastest man in the world. Despite what my body’s tried to say, I’ve gotten a step closer to that dream.”