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At 5’ 7’ inches tall and 230 pounds, sophomore Felipe Valencia does not stand out at all among his fellow La Joya Palmview High School students when he walks the halls. But he stands out in a big way when he steps into the shot put circle, rests the 12-pound steel ball against his neck and throws the shot. The state silver medalist stands tall as one of the best shot putters in the State of Texas.
In a sport in which size and strength are definite advantages, Felipe found himself competing against athletes almost a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier when he advanced to the state shot put finals this month.
Palmview Track Coach Daniel Lombrana pointed this out when he said, “When we went to state, the gentleman that beat Felipe was something like 6’ 6” tall and weighed 325 pounds. Then I looked at the kid from Eagle Pass that beat Felipe at regionals…and that guy was 6’ 6” and 350 pounds.”
Inspired by his sister Irasema, a 2004 La Joya High School graduate, who qualified for regionals in shot put for the Coyotes, Felipe first took up the shot put in seventh grade. His immediate success motivated him to keep at it.
“When I started out I was competing against eighth graders and I was coming in first so I decided to stick with the sport since I was doing pretty good,” Felipe shared.
Coach Lombrana believes Felipe has an innate ability and a God-given talent that has allowed him to succeed at every level he has competed in. However, it’s his desire to succeed and his work ethic in conjunction with that ability and talent that now has him competing at the highest level in the state, Lombrana said.
Seeing the success Felipe had in local tournaments, the coach felt he had the potential to succeed at higher level. So, Lombrana decided to put him under the tutelage of Throws Coach Sebastian Duque, who he felt would get the most out of the young man.
“He’s got a really good coach. He is a very good motivator. That’s why I put Felipe with him. He’s improved 6 feet from last year and I really think that Coach Duque has played a big part in helping him to improve,” Lombrana said.
While overcoming a pronounced size disadvantage has certainly made Felipe’s success in the shot put an impressive feat, as a sophomore he has also had to overcome an age and experience difference.
“It’s not very common for somebody to do what Felipe has done,” Lombrana said. “At state, the first place gentleman was a senior and the third place gentleman was a senior. A lot has to do with his sister, his God-given athletic ability and his desire and drive to succeed.”
To win the silver medal at the state meet, Felipe threw the 12-pound ball 57’ 2 ¾”. That was not the best throw of his young career, however. At regionals, he threw the ball 59’ 2”. Had he been able to match that throw at state, he would be the state champion. This year’s state champ, Zac Weatherly of Amarillo, had a best throw of 57’ 7”.
While Felipe is among the best of the best in shot put, it is not the only field event that he has excelled in this year.
“He came in third in regionals in the discus. Had he come in second he would’ve qualified for state in that also,” Lombrana explained. “He needs to touch up a little bit on that. I’m not going to say that it’s harder than the shot, but it does require a little bit of a different step.”
While Felipe’s first trip to the state finals was certainly a success, Lombrana believes that experience will serve him well next year.
“I know that he was intimidated in Austin to a certain extent, but nonetheless, he still performed. Next year, when he goes there, God willing, the experience of going this year is going to be a big plus for him. Because now he knows how it feels and what it takes to win,” he said.
As for Felipe’s plans for the future, he hopes to qualify for an athletic scholarship with a certain university that just happens to be in the same city where he competed at state.
“Since seventh grade I’ve said that I was going to go to U.T.,” Felipe said. “That’s my dream, but anything can happen. I’m wide open on any college. I want to get a scholarship in track. A free education, that’s why I do track.”
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The Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.