McDonogh track star gears up for competition in Cuba
By Jeff Seidel
May 23, 2017 | 11:50 AM
McDonogh junior Dalton Hengst has grown into a high-level distance runner who is so talented that he regularly receives invitations to compete in track meets in various places around the country. He recently ran in Philadelphia and New York and is headed for Boston and North Carolina in the coming weeks.
But the real eye-opener on his travel itinerary is where Hengst is going from May 24 to 29 — Havana.
Hengst and McDonogh coach Jeff Sanborn (and his wife) are headed to Cuba, as the runner will take part in the Caribbean Scholastic Invitational set for May 26-28. In all, 28 track-and-field athletes are representing the United States (14 boys and 14 girls) as part of Team National Scholastic Athletics Foundation.
Hengst wrapped up a stellar spring season at McDonogh last week by winning the 800 meters, 1,600 meters and 3,200 meters at the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association championship, a difficult task for any distance runner to pull off. He did the same thing during the MIAA title meet in indoor track a few months ago, and the junior said he is prepared for whatever transpires in Cuba.
"I'm very excited, and I just want to get over there and get ready to compete and also to enjoy the experience," Hengst said. "I'm really excited to go out there with the best in the country in my grade and share that five-day experience with them."
The trip basically involves two parts. First, there's the racing. The competition will be an international event, meaning Hengst, who is from York, Pa, and boards at McDonogh like many students, will be taking on some of the best runners his age from around the world.
It also will be an educational experience. Not many high school juniors receive a trip to Cuba. Hengst is looking forward to both parts of the opportunity.
"I want to learn a little about their culture and just race them," he said. "I really don't know what to expect. It's nerves, but there's excitement over nerves. I'm just excited to get over there, and I'm ready to roll."
Sanborn said that, as of now, Hengst is going to run only the 1,500 meters. The coach said there is a chance Hengst also could run in the 5,000 meters but that had yet to be confirmed as of early last week.
The coach is probably just as excited for the opportunity to visit Cuba, because he is a government and global issues teacher at McDonogh.
"I want to go to Cuba and see Havana, [and do] the whole thing," Sanborn said. "It's just an eye-opening experience, a phenomenal opportunity for me to go and to see a part of the world that is just opening to the world."
Chris Cucuzzella is a physics teacher at Loyola Blakefield who also coaches track and cross country at the school, a longtime rival of McDonogh, and he has seen Hengst run many a race.
Cucuzzella agreed with Sanborn on this trip being about more than possibly just running one four-minute race.
"I see it as an opportunity to compete against the best, and it is also an amazing educational experience to see the world outside of (Owings Mills)," Cucuzella said. "And it's a really big world out there. It's an awesome educational experience."
Hengst said he knows life will be different in Havana but really does not understand — at least not yet — in what ways. The team is staying in a hotel but it looks like cell phone service is not going to be available. In addition, Wi-Fi service reportedly comes at the steep cost of $10 per hour.
As a prelude to the Havana trip, Hengst last month won the mile race at the prestigious Penn Relays in Philadelphia in a personal best time of 4 minutes, 9.99 seconds, going against some this nation's top runners.
"The whole week, I thought about how I've never had a big win before," Hengst told a reporter for PennLive. "But if there was anywhere to win a race, Penn Relays was the place to do it.
After the Havana experience, Hengst then travels to Boston and North Carolina for big meets that will wrap up his outdoor season.
Still, Havana has dominated Hengst's thoughts lately.