Running with the Greyhounds

Chelsea’s Driven Track Team

BY BONNIE ROSENSTOCK  |  Before the weather turned frigid, if you happened by W. 27th/28th Streets and 9th/10th Avenues on any given Monday, Wednesday and Friday around 3:45pm and didn’t blink, you might have caught a glimpse of the Greyhounds.

No, not those sleek dogs or the bus line, but the Chelsea Greyhounds — a track team of 8-to-14-year olds who were flying by as fast as their feet and determination would carry them along these two streets and avenues. It might have been considered a little chilly out there, but for Greyhounds coach Ron Guialdo, “the different terrain of the street and the cold weather were perfect, and one go-round is about 663 meters,” he calculated.

In its one-and-a-half-year existence, the Chelsea Greyhounds has become a formidable competitive team, winning a combined total of over 100 medals, thanks to the hard work and dedication of Guialdo and his fleet-footed charges. At every local meet they participated in last summer, the Greyhounds took top honors — mostly first, second and third place. At their first-ever nationals (the award-winning: Chelsea Greyhounds, at the AAU Cross Country National Championship in Kissimmee, Florida, on December 4), half the team qualified, and all five (one girl was sick and couldn’t go) medaled.

“It was a challenge, but really fun and exciting, and we worked hard for it,” said Grant Nickson, who ran the 3,000-meter event and finished 37 out of a field of 200 competitors. The 11-year-old long distance runner has only been training for six months.  “Running has become a big part of my life,” he said.

The Greyhounds began organically, said Ann O’Dell of the serendipitous August 2009 encounter that set things in motion. Guialdo was training his two sons, Zuma (now 10) and Raiden (now 9) and their friend in cross county running in Chelsea Park — which snakes around 27th and 28th Streets and 9th to 10th Avenues. “My husband, who plays soccer in a league for adults, was goofing around running sprints with our daughter, Elena, now 11. When Ron saw her, he said, ‘wow, she’s fast.’ We struck up a conversation. It turned out we live a block from each other, so the kids began going to the track together, running sprints and doing strength training and stretching. Little by little, the neighborhood kids on the field started asking, ‘what are you doing?’ and it evolved from there. The Greyhounds now have a core group of nine youngsters, mostly 4th and 5th graders (ages nine and ten), with several more who might participate for various lengths of time.

“I had no idea what I was getting into,” laughed Guialdo.  “Nothing in my life has exploded as quickly as this — the response and dedication of the parents, children and myself. I couldn’t turn any child away who is willing to come and do the hard work. It’s my pleasure to be a part of anyone’s perfection within themselves.”

Guialdo’s wife Kristine remembered her response when he said he wanted to start a track team. “I said you already have a track team — our four sons! [The other boys are two and three.] The last thing we needed was more kids,” she laughed. “They started on Sundays at 11 a.m., and before you knew it, there were 15 kids. They worked hard, three to four days a week, no one crying, complaining. It has completely changed their lives. I’m really proud of all of them.”

Bianca Nickson, Grant’s mother, added, “Ron works them very hard. He wants them to build up their endurance, work for themselves and be disciplined. It’s such a great gift that he’s giving to those kids. It’s not just running. I can see that in how Grant approaches school, for example. Being 11 and just starting middle school, which is a hard transition, he’s quite comfortable with himself.”

Guialdo, 40, comes from a legendary Trinidadian track and field family. His mother, Paulina Guialdo, was the 1959-60 West Indian Women’s 80-meter hurdles champion. When the family moved to the Bronx in the early 1970s (he was six), she taught her children how to run hurdles over chairs and a broomstick in the basement and high jumping skills on a pile of old mattresses in the backyard.  Guialdo, whose specialty was hurdles, and his four siblings — ranked in this country’s top ten highest-achieving families in field and track — entered college on scholarships.

One of Guialdo’s aims is to obtain scholarships for every child on the team, “and we fully intend to instill in them a life-long love of running, plus teach the power of achieving one’s goals through hard work and dedication,” he declared.

Even though track and field — the Greyhounds train in long jumps, hurdles, sprint and long distance — are seemingly low-cost activities, “we are just hobbling along,” said O’Dell. Monthly expenses for a dozen kids run around $3,200, which pays for meet registration fees, local transportation, water and snacks and coach and assistant coach stipends. Yearly expenses amount to another $350 per child (or $4,200) for Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and USA Track & Field (USATF) dues, uniforms, spike shoes, website and incidentals. The organization is in the process of applying for 50lC3 non-profit status and looking for sponsors. “Until we get stable sponsorship, which is tied to getting formal non-profit status, we’re asking $25 a month from the parents,” said O’Dell.

For the Florida meet, Kristine spearheaded an intensive fundraising drive for the airfare and overnight hotel for the athletes, Guialdo, assistant coach Jeff Barna, who is the physical education director of Chelsea Prep Elementary School, and a chaperone. Fifty-seven people, including local Chelsea businesses Mustang Sally’s on 7th Avenue and 28th Street; BB Group, an architectural and design firm on W. 29th Street; Greenwich Village Plumbing Supply of Chelsea on W. 28th Street; Ridge Electric, which is not in Chelsea; and The Color of Magic, the Guialdos’ small event design business at 221 W. 28th Street btw. 7th and 8th Avenues, donated from a dollar to $500, for a total of almost $2,500. “Who could resist the flyer with pictures of the kids — boys, girls, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, really representative of New York City,” said Kristine.

In addition to money hurdles is the lack of adequate training facilities in Manhattan, said O’Dell, who pointed out that the Chelsea Greyhounds are the only track team represented in the borough.  “There are several track clubs in the four other boroughs, and there are high schools or university gyms to practice in. The Armory on W. 168th Street is a good venue, but it’s always booked and very far away for our children to practice after school.  Pratt Institute in Brooklyn [where the Women’s Colgate Games are held in mid-December and January] said they were too young. Ideally, we would love to practice at the quarter-mile regulation-size track in the adult membership only facility at Chelsea Piers, but they told us it isn’t kid friendly. Last winter, the fitness club members were up in arms when we were there,” she asserted.

“It doesn’t matter, responded Guialdo. “I can train on the stairs or an indoor basketball court.” And so for the time being, the Greyhounds are training three days a week by running up and down the stairway in O’Dell’s building — followed by 30 minutes of crunches, isometrics and stretching on the floor of her apartment.  “The people on the 16th floor have twin babies and have complained. I really hope we are able to sustain training here until April when they can go back outside,” O’Dell said.

Chelsea Park, where they used to train, is under construction. It is slated to reopen in summer with a new three-or four-lane track, which the Greyhounds are looking forward to using. “We’re a big family, always together helping and encouraging each other with form and little details how we can do better,” said Grant. “This is the only sport I love.”

For more information: www.bb-group.com/chelseagreyhounds/about-us-2.