HS track and field: West’s Pena to run at Belmont Abbey

Published 11:33 pm Thursday, June 6, 2019

By Mike London

MOUNT ULLA — Devon Pena started late, but he’s making up for lost time.

West Rowan’s Pena will compete for Belmont Abbey College cross country in the fall.

“He really came a long way as as a senior,” West coach Scott Foster said. “He’s one of those kids that runs his best races on the toughest courses.”

Pena came to West from Southeast Middle School and was a youngster Foster knew little about. Pena came out for the cross country team late as a freshman, but he was so far behind his teammates he gave it up.

He wanted to run as a sophomore, but he was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. He was born with an extra electrical pathway in his heart.  That condition can lead to periods of rapid heart rate. Out of 1,000 children, one or two will have it.

“I had a heart thing going on as a sophomore,” Pena said. “But I was fine after surgery.”

As a junior, Pena was healthy and fit and made an impact for the Falcons. He was 26th in the Rowan County Championships at Dan Nicholas Park and helped West win the title.

In the North Piedmont Conference Championship held at Salisbury Community Park a few weeks later, Pena was 18th and was West’s third runner. That’s a more difficult course than flat Dan Nicholas, but Pena ran more than a minute faster than his county time.

“At Salisbury Community Park, there’s a huge hill right at the two-mile mark,” Foster explained. “That hill is tough for a lot of runners, but that’s our home course, and we practice on it. Devon has gotten used to that hill.”

Pena’s senior season was his best. He ran 18:26 at Dan Nicholas for seventh place in the Rowan County Championships. He made all-county and helped the Falcons finish second to South Rowan.

The next big meet was the  North Piedmont Conference Championships.

‘The NPC meet was just one of those days when everything felt perfect,” Pena said.  “My legs felt like they could go on forever.”

Pena clocked 17:56 at Dan Nicholas, finished fifth individually, and helped West take the league title.

“We don’t win the conference without that big meet from Devon,” Foster said.

Pena moved on from cross country to the other sport he excels in — wrestling.

He helped West take county and NPC crowns last winter. He was the champion at 106 pounds in the NPC tournament.

“Stamina is a big part of both sports, cross country and wrestling, and stamina is one of my strengths,” Pena said. “Wrestling has helped me in cross country, and cross country has helped me get in shape for wrestling.”

He’s run distance events in outdoor track in the past for the Falcons, but he did not compete this spring. He thought his competitive running days were over.

“We’d actually made plans for him to be my assistant coach for cross country next fall,” Foster said. “But then out of the blue, he got a call from Belmont Abbey.”

Pena liked the offer that he got and will continue his education and athletic career in Belmont, right off I-85, between Charlotte and Gastonia.

His career goal is to become an orthodontist. He’ll probably major in biology.

“I know I can improve my times in college,” Pena said. “I’m excited that I have a chance to keep competing. When I run, it makes me feel at peace.”

Foster has lost a potential assistant coach, but he doesn’t mind at all.

“Devon doesn’t have a lot of mileage on him because of that late start,” Foster said. “His best days are ahead of him.”