‘The fast kid’: Runner speeds through freshman track season

In the track team’s first conference multi-dual March 2, freshman Don Celestine, sophomores Nick Callen and Elon Grobey and junior Derek Ohara placed second in the four- by 400-meter relay with a time of 44.06. Photo by Jack Clendening

When undeclared freshman Don Celestine was on the football team as a running back at El Dorado High School in Placentia, California, he suffered a spiral fracture in his right leg that changed the trajectory of his athletic future. While Celestine was at practice during his junior year — a year he said was initially going “really well” — he had just run to the end-zone and scored when another player hit him from the back, full-force, he said.

“My foot was still on the ground and it twisted backwards,” Celestine said.

After that injury, Celestine said he felt confused because he said he has played football since he “came out of the womb.” For Celestine, it was devastating to imagine never taking the field again.

Growing up in Anaheim, California, Celestine spent most of his early childhood playing flag football with friends. Celestine said if the injury hadn’t happened, he would still be playing football.

But, the injury helped propel Celestine’s into his track career. He could devote more time to running once he stopped playing football, and his injury didn’t slow his pace on the track.

From an early age, Celestine said he was always known as “the fast kid,” but never seriously took up running until his injury. Wanting to try his hand at a new sport, Celestine joined the track team his sophomore year of high school. An unexpected victory in one of his relay races cemented his love for the sport.

“I was running the last leg and we were very far behind. But then, I got the baton and I just did my thing,” Celestine said. “Next thing I knew, I passed someone and we won the race. Everybody went crazy.”

As a sprinter on the track team, Celestine said he is excelling. His favorite race was the four- by 400-meter relay at the Pomona All-Comers meet at Pomona-Pitzer College Feb. 16. For Celestine, it was the first four- by 400 relay. Junior Leithan Pulon, Celestine’s teammate and business administration major, praised Celestine’s performance.

“Don was running the anchor leg and he was in second place … Then out of nowhere, on the last 100-meter stretch, Don flew out like a rocket and caught the other team,” Polon said. “Our whole team was shocked because we had never seen him run before and we were loving it.”

Celestine said the track and field team has had a “phenomenal” season. At the April 5 Whittier Twilight Invitational Meet, Chapman walked away with five first-place finishes, including the men’s 800-meter run and women’s 400-meter run. Despite the awards, Celestine said these victories don’t come easily.

“Track is different from all the other sports in terms of practices,” Celestine said. “If you’re not taking care of your body and you aren’t on a set track schedule all the time, then you will fall behind.”

Running track has become much more than a hobby for Celestine – it’s a lifestyle. He said he learned to go to bed earlier, eat healthier and practice regularly, he said.

When it comes to the future, Celestine is still figuring things out. Though he doesn’t regret the end of his football career, he misses it and debates going back to the sport.

“One side of me is telling me, ‘Yes, play. Why not?’ and the other side is like, ‘No, your body has taken too much of a beating after all these years,’’’ Celestine said.

For now, Celestine is focused on preparing for the April 27 and 28 Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) Championships.

Celestine said running track has helped fill the void left by football, and he wants to pursue the sport.

“I’ve always wanted to go to the Olympics,” Celestine said.