* Miami Hialeah Lakes' Mekhi Gammons before his FHSAA Class 3A Championship in the 400m this spring
Photo Credit: Danny Aguas/Flrunners
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There is a dimension to track and field that is not often talked about, nor celebrated, but crucially important.
It's the simple understanding of perspective.
For many young athletes, perhaps ones just like Mekhi Gammons, a clear question can often seem puzzling: If I don't win, was it all for naught?
As we often correlate wins to success, that idea is often blurred by results. But wins are not -- and have never -- been the sole denominator of success, and the reasons for why are many.
Gammons, as he enters his sixth AAU Junior Olympic Games competition in seven years, is one such case-study. Through the years, the Miami native hasn't always won, but he's certainly always been in the race. He's also continually chopped his career-best performances down, to the point where he's considered a high-level NCAA Division I recruit for most programs across the United States.
But as Mekhi's learning, the line between championships and PRs is imperceptible. This spring, he lost his state 400m title at the line -- by a hundredth of a second. A year ago, he finished sixth in the 200m at AAU -- by three tenths.
This year, with just less than two weeks before the AAU Junior Olympic Games at Greensboro, North Carolina -- a place where, four years ago, Gammons won both the 200m and 400m titles as a 14-year-old -- there is no guarantee for either title in the 17-18-year-old age bracket, with the likes of Justin Braun, Austin Gallant, Trevin Moyer, Nyckoles Harbor, Amir Green, Shamar Heard and others breathing down his neck.
If Gammons judged his performances solely on that one result -- the elusive W -- his objectives would remain blemished.
But one look at his calendar year suggests something else is happening: Gammons is blossoming.
In fact, the Miami Hialeah-Lakes rising senior is on the cusp of some high-profile milestones. In May, he ran a wind-legal personal best of 21.03 seconds in the 200m and 46.32 in the 400m. Those performances put him inside the top 25 and top 10, respectively, of those event classifications across the nation.
And yet, he wasn't even the fastest in his class, or in his state.
"I think I have so much more potential," Mekhi said recently. "But I always feel like there's more. I can never feel like I ran too fast. I feel like I can go faster."
To the naked eye, though, Mekhi had his breakthrough in 2022. Whether he had that elusive gold hardware in his hand or not was besides the point. As the 17-year-old is learning, behind the careful teachings of his father, Alphonza, there is more to a race than just the medal that accompanies its result.
"[I tell him] 'I can give you all the tools that you need to build what you need to build, but at some point you have to put the puzzle together,'" Alphonza said. "I will help him. I will walk him through it. But at some point, he as an athlete has to figure it out."
"Understanding you're not going to win every race, but you're still have to put in the work."
Father Gammons' advice is sage and warranted, because for every athlete like Mekhi, who began their careers at AAU amid a flurry of success and medals, the margins often close as they get older.
Much of Alphonza's team -- he inherited a group of former MGX athletes after the folding of the program -- have been in the AAU pipeline for some time. There's Cha'iel Johnson, a two-time state champion from Florida who has, in some ways, followed the same path as Mekhi -- she will also have an opportunity to win gold in the 200m, 400m and 800m.
There's Raynell Chambers, Shamar and Shanel Morgan and Jordan Evans.
Alphonza will bring his small group to AAU with the hopes of achieving gold medals and fast times. But if none of those things happen, and his team walks away with personal records instead, few would argue the overall judgment of the weekend.
"I enjoy coaching," he said. "I enjoy the kids. I enjoy the process of seeing the kids develop into who they become. But I love the process, too. There's no more enjoyment than to see a kid prosper and thrive in a sport they love."
Mekhi is one such example.
He's clearly thriving, and that goes beyond just his results on the track. His father touts his son's 3.7 GPA, and his recent SAT score. The University of Georgia just completed a home visit, and soon on the horizon are officials to a handful of his top schools. These are things that remind Mekhi that he is a high-achiever in more things than one.
Of course, don't tell him that. He manifests his energy on the track.
And when Mekhi talks about his performances, his penchant is to shoot for the sky: "I want to aim for 45 mid and 20.5 mid," he says of his goal times for the 400m and 200m.
Gammons is officially the 14th seed in the 200m and the 6th seed in the 400m. SoFlo Elite, the team for which Alphonza's athletes will run for, is in the 4x400, too.
But with competition so fierce in that 17-18yo division, even the smallest mistake will make a difference. Wins are not guaranteed. Alphonza needs to remind his team of this.
Recently, he's found himself settled into the coaches box: He continues to instill a core belief.
"Understanding you're not going to win every race, but you're still have to put in the work," he said.
In the end, the greatest lesson might be the one each athlete will learn from the results coming to them, win, lose or DQ. Ten years from now, those thoughts may be the ones they look back on, too.
Mekhi is already starting to sense it.
"Some of the realizations I've had [over my time running at AAU] would have to be staying humble, staying true to who you are, not being big-headed, learning to stay relaxed, not letting the sport overcome you," Mekhi said. "And not giving into the pressure.