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He was competing at the New Balance Nationals indoor track championship at The Armory in New York City, a renowned venue in the sport. Julio Gil-Martinez finished 34th that day in the 60-meter dash, but he found the experience only added to his education on the track.
"All those kids are so intense," said Gil-Martinez, a Waterford High School senior. "They say, 'I got up this morning and ran, then went to practice.'
"It made me realize if I put my mind to it, I can achieve good things. Just the whole environment, I loved the whole experience. It made me realize, 'This is how much harder I have to work.' ... I wish I listened to my dad sooner."
Gil-Martinez was the State Open champion in the 55 meters this winter, finishing the event in 6.52 seconds, the fastest guy in the state.
He also won the Eastern Connecticut Conference Small Division title in 6.57 seconds and the Class M championship in 6.54. After his win at the Open, he went on to the New England meet at the Reggie Lewis Track & Athletic Center in Boston and was third in 6.50 to earn All-New England honors.
Gil-Martinez has been named The Day's 2014 All-Area Boys' Indoor Track Athlete of the Year.
By contrast, he was fourth in the ECC Small Division last year in 6.81 seconds and didn't make the finals at the Class M meet, coming in 10th.
That was before, as Gil-Martinez calls it, he began to get intense.
"I was sick of not working hard," he said. "I was like, 'There's a difference between reaching your full potential and just putting in some effort.'"
Waterford football coach Mike Ellis saw a changed approach during the fall season, in Gil-Martinez's effort at linebacker. Ellis also saw Gil-Martinez during the winter in the weight room. He would finish track practice and head to lift weights with the football team.
Gil-Martinez credits his dad, Chris Jordan, a former track athlete at East Lyme High, for giving him a push in the right direction. He got his own weight room at home and worked on his strength.
There was also indoor track coach Jay Criscuolo, who helped Gil-Martinez with his starts. Gil-Martinez said people used to laugh at his starts, knowing all the while he would use his speed to catch up in the end. Criscuolo fixed all that.
Ellis said, though, that it's all a credit to Gil-Martinez, who now plans to attend Monroe College in New Rochelle, N.Y., a National Junior College Athletic Association Division I program in track, where he'd like to major in criminal justice.
"In terms of athletics and in terms of his performance in the classroom, he really started to put it together," said Ellis, who is also the Waterford boys' outdoor track coach, coaching Gil-Martinez in a pair of disciplines.
"He found out, 'This is what you have to do. This is the work necessary.' He's staying after school for extra help. He's going back to the teachers to make sure he has his work done. ... He's learned that the little things go a long way for you with a lot of things in life.
"It's allowed him to blossom in his senior year."
Gil-Martinez also won the 300 meters at the ECC Small meet and was second in that event in Class M, following Ledyard's Joe Carter. He was fifth in the longer event at the State Open.
Gil-Martinez said it has been the sports in which he competes that have taught him the most. He said he formerly used track only as a vehicle to improve his athleticism for football.
"I love both sports now," he said as he begins the final season of his high school career. "They both taught me a lot. It's just a brotherhood. It taught me not to give up just because someone beats you out of the blocks.
"I would do it all over if I had the chance."
Gil-Martinez said Jordan would always tell him: "You have so much more in you. Don't think of sports as something easy to do."
He doesn't anymore. One of his goals for the spring is to return to nationals and finish in the top 10 in the nation.
Said Gil-Martinez: "I definitely wish I achieved more. I still want more."
Player of the Year: Julio Gil-Martinez (Waterford)
300 meters - Joe Carter (Ledyard)
600 - Brandon Dinsmore (East Lyme)
1,000, 1,600, 3,200 - Connor Gralton (NFA)
55 hurdles - Tyler Latham (Fitch)
4x200 relay - New London (Jose Garcia, Dante Alston, Nico Ramos, Orrin Parke)
4x400 relay - Old Lyme (Jack Castonguay, Jeff Davis, Cole McKnight, Ross Golebiewski)
4x800 relay - Old Lyme (Cole McKnight, Stuart Ross, Jeff Davis, Ross Golebiewski)
Sprint medley relay - Fitch (Frank Norosky, Devin Lehman, Tyler Latham, Cameron Wilhelm)
High jump - Nico Ramos (New London)
Pole vault - Parker Cronin (Ledyard)
Long jump - JoJo Shumaker (Ledyard)
Shot put - Brandon Chesnut (Ledyard)
Utility - Bryce Hedman (Ledyard)