By MICHAEL KELLY
Recorder Sports Staff
Back in the racing game, Amsterdam's Jaime Julia is making quite a splash.
A 2003 graduate of Amsterdam High School, Julia will compete today in the 10K race at the USA Track & Field Club Cross Country Championships in Lexington, Ky. as a member of the Albany Running Exchange.
"I'm just going to experience it, have a good time and run fast with good runners from all across the country," Julia says.
Julia was a standout at AHS before excelling at SUNY Cobleskill and Adelphi University as a collegian, but has been largely out of the competitive running game since college. Instead, over the past few years Julia has focused his racing acumen on helping to coach the Rams and Lady Rams of the school's cross country and track and field teams. For the past few years, Julia has helped with Amsterdam's varsity squads while running the program's modified clubs.
Stu Palczak, the Lady Rams' head coach, says Julia's infectious spirit and smile is what draws athletes to his style of coaching.
"His personality, I could only describe it as charismatic and dynamic -- especially when he's coaching," says Palczak, who coached Julia. "People, especially kids, are especially drawn to him and it's hard not to be. He exudes enthusiasm and a love for the sport.
"He's really no different now than when he was a kid," Palczak goes on. "He was enthusiastic then, loved it ... he was a great kid and he was always there pushing his teammates, those who were fast or slow. The other athletes and the coaches really enjoyed Jaime, so, now, to have him back ... it's been nice what he adds to the program."
"He's a great coach," adds AHS junior Chris Rost. "He's a lot of fun."
That's seen when watching Julia work with his runners at a recent practice for Amsterdam's indoor track teams. Putting the AHS athletes through a series of drills, Julia's accented voice -- Julia is originally from Puerto Rico -- sings out constantly, alternating between instructing and encouraging the Rams and Lady Rams.
Usually laughs and smiles accompany the athletes as they train under Julia.
"He's a lot of fun, but he's very experienced and knows little tricks that help us," Kelly Paris says, a senior for the Lady Rams.
"He's certainly not a pushover," adds Palczak. "He knows how to straddle that fine line."
That's shown in Julia's training for today's national race. Starting to run again in earnest about a year ago, Julia soon hurt his lower back and had to hit pause on his training. After a few months, Julia was back in action, but at a reduced pace so as to not reaggravate his injury.
"I'm just doing everything easy and long distance, training myself," says Julia, who routinely runs from the Five Corners Mobil to Fulton-Montgomery Community College and back. His goal each day -- he takes one day off a week -- is to run for an hour or two at whatever pace feels comfortable.
Usually that pace is a pretty strong one. Recently to help push himself at the Troy Turkey Trot, Julia had set up a bet with Kevin Wilary, a fellow AHS coach, to see who could run their Thanksgiving Day race in a better time, as Wilary was racing in Cohoes.
"We did it because we knew our times would be close," Wilary says.
And, why is that?
"Well," says Julia, "Kevin was running a 5K ... and I was doing a 10K."
Wilary ended up winning by a margin of 21 seconds, as Julia finished his race in seventh place with a time of 32 minutes, 50 seconds to Wilary's 32 minutes, 29 seconds.
"I beat him and I got to brag to the team and my students that I beat coach Julia in a race," says Wilary, a history teacher at AHS. "Then, I told them the races were a different length and they all understood because they were very confused when I told them I had beaten him."
Julia says an important piece of his training has been the support from his fellow coaches, who were the ones who helped him get back into running after his injury. Julia started running again in early October, entering some smaller races before moving on to longer adventures and joining up with the Albany Running Exchange team he will compete with today.
"Everyone supports him with his running. We really want to see him succeed," says Wilary. "He's talented and he does a great job with it."
The goal for today -- Julia races at 1:30 p.m. in the open division -- is to record a time in the "low 31s." After completing the first five kilometers of his Thanksgiving Day race in 16 minutes, 5 seconds, achieving his desired time will be difficult, but Julia does not seem too concerned.
He's just happy to be back in the game.
"I'm just enjoying every single run I do," he says. "I try not to put any pressure into my running. I make it as fun as possible, as steady as possible, and stay as motivated as possible."