A little success can go a long way.
It was while in middle school, in the 8th grade that Port Charlotte’s John Perez enjoyed some success, served as the impetus to go on to greater challenges. The Pirate senior is the Charlotte Sun Boys’ Cross-Country Runner of the Year. Perez placed first at Districts, eighth at Regionals and 21st at States. Perez also qualified for States as a junior.
“I kind of ran 5 Ks every once in a while,” said Perez. “(In 8th grade) I ran the 800, and I was supposed to run the mile, and at the last second, the coach said, ‘I think you would be better in the 800.’ And I ended up winning.”
That positive experience helped launch an interscholastic career, one where Perez would evolve into an elite runner.
“I said, ‘I guess I’ll go out and try cross-country to help me prepare for track in high school,’ and I ended up really liking it,” said Perez.
Several upper classmen encouraged Perez, providing him with a more defined objective, serving as the catalyst to be the best he could be, keeping a larger goal in mind. Cross-country would allow him to direct his energies toward a greater purpose.
“I was like, ‘Let me try it out and see if I can be successful or not,’” said Perez. “When a couple of other runners said, you can get scholarships and it’ll help you go to college, that’s when I started to implement the work part of it.”
Hayden Wilder and Michael Balseca were the upper classmen who played a role in influencing Perez to pursue the sport, recognizing his promise and potential.
“I made varsity freshman year, and a couple of races in, I got moved up,” said Perez. “I started to see how big the competition was and how much I had to work to be a top runner.”
However, Perez dedicated himself to the discipline and it’s his commitment to excellence that made a considerable difference compelling him to greater heights.
“It’s a hard balance sometimes,” said Perez. “I tend to see myself running a lot even through the off season, not necessarily every day, but five out of the seven days a week. It depends on what part of the year or what part of the season in it is. During conditioning it’s between five and seven and up to nine. For track, you don’t need much distance. I’m mainly working on speed and building a foundation.”
It’s Perez’ defined approach and understanding of the sport that’s helped him achieve optimal results on a consistent basis.
“A couple of distance runs will build up my foundation of endurance, speed workouts for speed and kicks and things like that,” said Perez.
There are challenges associated with the works that goes into achieving at a higher level, and the intangibles and vagaries can make the process far more interesting.
“It’s definitely not easy,”’ said Perez. “There are times like, ‘I don’t want this, or like coach what are you thinking about with this type of workout.’ It comes down to that gray area of hard working ability if you’re going to be the top runner or if you’re going to be looking from the outside.”
Perez’s early success played a large role in his evolution as a runner and it would serve as the impetus with his focus shift toward performing at his optimal best each time he ran.
“A lot of people told me I had an amazing freshman year,” said Perez. “So, really my goal during my sophomore was beat that time in every race. If I got a PR, I would have to PR the next race. I pushed constantly to improve. The habit and that desire kind of stuck with me. It really started to push me during workouts.”
The impression Wilder and Balseca made on Perez in terms of the gravitas of the sport; left an indelible imprint on the runner.
“Wilder ended up leaving the team my sophomore year,” said Perez. “Balseca, freshman year, I ended up beating him one race, so sophomore year in workouts it was about just seeing how long I could stay with him and work with him. And a couple of times, he would just tell me, ‘Dude, you just have to keep going. Balseca had a big impact from an early age to make me want to work harder.”
However, Wilder and Balseca weren’t the only ones to have played in influential role in shaping Perez as an athlete.
“I’ve been with Coach (Ray) Chumbley (Port Charlotte boys cross-country) since freshman year,” said Perez. “I didn’t always like the workouts he gave us. Some are ridiculously hard, but I started to see they all had meaning behind them and a purpose to help us. He’s doing it so we can be the best runners we can be. When we did these ridiculously hard workouts, I started to admire him. I wanted more of them to help me push and keep going.”
Perez’s experiences as a Pirate have laid the foundation for greater success at the intercollegiate level, providing him with the necessary self-confidence to attain even greater results.
“It was kind of something from within to know that I can run with anyone,” said Perez. “It helped me feel better when I went up against competition; that they’re not going to blow me out of the water. As long I keep working, I can run with anyone.”
Chumbley recognized Perez’s potential from those nascent stages, and recognized his talent and ability. As Perez progressed and grew with his experience, his desire to succeed became readily apparent.
“Starting back as a freshman, when he first joined our team, he certainly showed a lot of promise right off the bat,” said Chumbley. “There was some friendly competition with some of the other teammates on our team, including Michael Balseca and Hayden Wilder. And I know he was just as competitive with them in practices right away. He was able to be competitive with them at our meets, and I was really excited to have him on our varsity team early. We don’t often see freshman runners come in and have that kind of impact on our varsity team.”
Perez would eventually become the Pirates no. one runner, accepting additional responsibility and transitioning seamlessly into a leadership role, said Chumbley.
“He was the leader of our stretching circle and the vocal leader of our warmups and everything we did on a day-to-day basis in practice. He’s been great. I’m sure that someone, two, three, four or five years down the road will say, ‘John is the reason that I became who I am.’ It’s really great to have him on our team.”
All-Area Boys Cross-Country Team
Alvaro Amaya, North Port Junior
“Alvaro is a gifted multi-sport athlete,” said Phu Nguyen, North Port cross-country coach. “I actually had to share him with the golf team. If I had him full-time, he could have been better than he was.”
Thomas Blem, Lemon Bay Sophomore
Blem was a consistent presence for the Manta Rays placing ninth at the Clearwater Central Catholic Invitational; 12th at the North Port Cross-Country Invitational and 25th at the Tri-County Championships.
Joe Bishop, Port Charlotte Junior
“Joe proved to be one of most reliable runners on race day,” said Roy Chumbley, Port Charlotte boys cross-country coach. “There were some weeks where his practices went really well, and some where they didn’t necessarily go his way. But he showed us many times that he was going to have great races no matter what.”
Chase Chambers, Port Charlotte Senior
“Chase was one of our team leaders this season,” said Chumbley. “He was a great role model for our younger athletes, and a constant source of positivity that the team needed, especially in adverse situations.”
Nick Renaud, Imagine School Senior
"Nick is a relentless worker who leads by example," said Ryan Alvarez, Imagine School boys cross country coach. "He raised the bar for the entire program in the off-season by setting his sights on making it to regionals and everyone else followed his leadership and dedication. Nick has goals of running cross country in college."
Joseph Smith, North Port Sophomore
“A great competitor,” said Nguyen. “At the end of the race, you expected him to be near the top of doing what it took to be near the top.”