Teoana Banton was playing in the park with her older cousin two years ago when she realized she had something that would change the course of her life: The ability to run fast.
At 8 years old, she was sitting on a bench while watching her cousin practice football. Out of boredom, she got up and started racing him and his friends – winning several times. Like most children her age would do when they discover something they are good at, Teoana rushed home and immediately told her mom about it.
Her mother, Michelle Easy, did not take her daughter seriously at first, but when Teoana’s cousins reassured her, Easy decided to take her to Betty T. Ferguson Recreational Complex in Miami Gardens.
“It’s a really fun sport and can take you places,” said Teoana, 10, who is a fifth grader at Crestview Elementary School in Miami Gardens. “I love it because I can run really fast.”
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Running really fast is something Teoana, whose hero is Florence Griffith Joyner, the legendary Olympian, has been doing since she first went to the recreational complex in November of 2012. It was at this facility where she met Elvis Morris and Franklin Harris – two track coaches. They helped her become a part of Ultimate Track Club, and less than a year later, she became the No.1-ranked girl in Florida and No. 2 in the United States.
Teoana qualified for the 2013 Junior Olympics in Detroit, Mich., winning silver in the 100-meter dash and placing fourth in the 200-meter run.
The quest to compete in this year’s Junior Olympics in Des Moines, Iowa, which begins Thursday, July 24 and ends Aug. 3., has come with challenges off the track.
Easy, who is a single mother of three and lives in Miramar, is currently unemployed and has reached out the community to help fund her daughter’s trip. Along with asking for donations, she and her daughter have done candy sales, fish frying and have sold raffle tickets to try to raise funds. Easy hopes to raise at least $3,500, which she feels will be the amount needed to cover the trip, food and equipment necessary to compete.
“There have been a lot of hardships,” Easy said. “We’re doing our best because this girl can run, and she can bring home the gold.”
Allen, Teoana’s head coach, trains her by focusing on speed and endurance. He, too, believes she is ready to be the fastest girl in the competition.
“We train her endurance, as well as speed. Some days we sprint and others we run the 300 or 150 for endurance,” said Allen, who has been coaching track for 15 years. “I see her focus. She loves to run, and nothing will take her mind off that.”
Despite the financial struggle, Teoana and her mom have been able to find help within the community. They are still, however, short of the goal they need to make in order to afford the trip. They will continue seeking financial support.
Teoana’s confidence is not shaken.
“I want to bring the gold to Miami,” she said. “And if I go, I will.”