A’Jani Stokes is the fastest kid at GTMO.
A ninth grade student at W.T. Sampson School at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, A’Jani is unlike any other athlete who competed in the AAU Cross Country National Championships in Tallahassee, Florida on Dec. 5.
Still just 14 years old and in the midst of his first year of high school, A’Jani holds the unofficial title as the fastest youth athlete in one of the most notable military detention camps in the world.
His father Rodney, who spent 20 years serving his country in the United State Navy, is stationed in Cuba as a kitchen manager for the Navy base’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) department. His mother Ericka works for the Navy Exchange as a Human Resources Assistant.
Located on the southeastern coast of Cuba about 400 miles from the mainland United States, Guantanamo Bay Naval Station is the oldest overseas U.S. Naval Base in the world. More than 10,000 people – 4,000 of whom are members of the U.S. military – reside on the island, unable to leave the base and confined to roughly 45 square miles.
Given the small population of children on the island, the base offers limited opportunities for youth sports programs. Sports teams often play against groups of local firefighters and hospital workers and avid runners like A’Jani compete in road races – community runs from 3-kilometers to 10-kilometers – against well-conditioned members of the U.S. military.
“There’s really not a big running group [for kids in Cuba],” his father Rodney said. “The only competitive training he gets is through community runs and 5Ks on the base.”
Even before Cuba, though, A’Jani has left his footprints all over the world.
He was born in Sasebo, Japan and developed his passion for running in Naples, Italy. Joining his parents on military assignments across the world, A’Jani has also trained – mostly self-coached – in Lisbon, Portugal; Norfolk, Virginia and Jacksonville, Florida.
Throughout each stop, running has remained a constant.
“[A’Jani] is a winner in his family’s eyes and to many people on this base,” his mother Ericka said. “He has found something that he loves and he has not let these obstacle get in his way.”
A’Jani continued: “I work hard every day just to try to get [to AAU Cross Country Nationals] and do my best.”
A’Jani, his brother Rayshawn and Rodney made the trek to Tallahassee for AAU Cross Country Nationals earlier this month. Accustomed to running in the sweltering Cuban heat, A’Jani pushed through the cooler weather in Tallahassee to finish with a time of 14:23.72 in the Boys 13-14 year-old 4K.
For more information about the event, visit www.aauathletics.org.
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