In just five short years, Elite Feet of Corpus Christi has successfully brought national attention to our city’s young athletes – and under the guidance of Coach Eddie Ortiz, these runners don’t show any sign of slowing down.
By: Sarah Tindall
Photos by: Paul Marshall
Five years ago, Eddie Ortiz was just doing his job as a physical education teacher at Montclair Elementary, timing his students as they ran a mile in class. It seemed like just another day on the job, but what happened on the track was life-changing for him and for several of his students.
“I told the kids that I’d buy McDonald’s for anyone who broke seven minutes, 30 seconds,” Ortiz says. “I had two girls who did a seven-minute mile. They were in third through fifth grade at the time, and I couldn’t believe it. These were kids who had never really participated in sports at a very competitive level, much less run on track teams. I realized there was a ton of potential in those kids and decided to do something about it.”
He decided to organize a Beach to Bay relay team for the May 2011 event, but the school wouldn’t sanction it. So he registered them himself – and Elite Feet was born. The kids did so well and had so much fun that Ortiz decided to continue to coach them through the summer track season. What happened that summer was amazing.
Ortiz had 12 kids, both boys and girls ranging in age from 10 to 13, qualify for the Texas Amateur Athletic Federation (TAAF) Games in Waco that summer. There had never been a team of kids this age come from Corpus Christi to these games before. The kids did well, placing in all of their age groups, and several qualified for and competed in Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Cross Country Nationals that fall in Orlando, something else that a team this age from Corpus Christi had never done before.
The following year, in 2012, the word was out, and Ortiz’s program really took off. He had three Beach to Bay teams, all finishing first in their age groups, and they set two course records. Summer track was another record-breaking season with 70 TAAF state qualifiers. The TAAF event took place in Corpus Christi, and the Elite Feet kids were the only ones from the city to compete in the event in their age groups. They did well, with two athletes qualifying for nationals. That fall, Elite Feet took two full complete teams of eight to the AAU competition in Rock Hill, S.C. – a total of 22 kids.
By 2013, in just two short years, Elite Feet jumped to 100 kids in the program, with 13 Beach to Bay teams, nine of which won in their division and three that set course records. Eighty kids qualified for TAAF through the summer track meets, where two went home state champions and two relay teams medaled bronze. That fall, 80 Elite Feet athletes went to Cross Country Nationals, 20 of whom were Academic All American (with an A average in school). Ortiz’s senior girls placed third in the USATF cross-country nationals in San Antonio.
In 2014, the Elite Feet kids branched out and started to compete in new competitions, including Indoor Nationals in Houston, Texas. Of the 24 athletes who went to the competition, all finished in the top three or better. Corpus Christi was officially on the map for its running program.
In spring of 2014, Elite Feet registered 16 Beach to Bay teams, 12 of which won overall. There were 24 AAU Academic All Americans last year, and at the AAU cross-country nationals in Lawrence, Kan., last fall, an the 11/12 girls Elite Feet team was second in the nation, and all 16 athletes who competed achieved AAU All-American honors.
And then, in February 2015, Ciara Martinez stunned the nation by smashing the world record in the 15K in Dallas. She was one of the original girls to whom Ortiz offered McDonald’s five years ago, and, with Elite Feet coaching and a whole lot of hard work, at 12, Martinez is the world record holder in her age group.
“Coach O,” as the kids call Ortiz, is proud of the strides his athletes have made in the last five years. “Many of the kids I started with came from low economic backgrounds,” he says. “I coached for free and paid for all their registrations. As the program grew, I started to charge a fee every month, and we accepted any kid who wanted to participate. We had homeschoolers who wanted to lose weight who we taught to eat right and who just loved running. The focus has always been on proper technique, not running the kids to death. The kids start at six miles a week, and by the time they are in the elites, they are running 15 to 20 miles a week. We work on breathing, heart rate and form.”
Coaching comes naturally to Ortiz, who is an athlete himself. In high school at Tuloso-Midway, Ortiz was on the swim team, the soccer team, the cross-country team and the baseball team. In college at the University of Texas-Permian Basin, he competed on the swimming, cross-country and track teams. “We won the conference in swimming my senior year, and I was a 12 time All-American in swimming, set four school records in track and qualified for Team USA in Sprint Triathalon,” he says.
After getting his bachelor’s degree in communication and his master’s degree in educational leadership, Ortiz was offered a job at Carroll High School as the swim coach and assistant cross country and track coach while coaching physical education. That led him later to Montclair, and to that life-changing day on the track timing his students in the mile.
Now his Elite Feet athletes are “convincingly winning high school track meets,” Ortiz says, and he’s looking forward to more record breaking in 2015. “As a team, we workout on Sundays at the Corpus Christi Athletic Club, one of our big sponsors. We run on the track, swim, work on our abs and core strength, even use the spin room. During the week, we spend one day at a local track and the other days running at local parks. We take kids from six to 18, and now they have to try out to make the team.”
Ortiz’s ultimate goal is to get these kids college scholarships. Of the 10 kids he sent to college last year, all of them were recruited to run for their schools, and all of them received some kind of scholarship. This is huge for Ortiz, who knows this is a life-changing opportunity for his kids. Ortiz thanks his sponsors for their contributions to the success of his program. These include:
Armadillo Sport Chiropractic
Bay Area Bike & Tri
Roy’s Machine & Fabrication
This March and April, Elite Feet is focusing on training kids for the Beach to Bay Marathon, and then in May, it will focus on signing kids up for summer track. This summer, practice will be in the mornings from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. with meets on Saturdays.
For more information or to sign up with Elite Feet, go to www.elitefeetofcc.org, like them on Facebook at Elite Feet of Corpus Christi or call 361-877-6865.