Fordham Prep graduate and Yonkers resident Miguel Negrete is hoping to represent Hondurous in international competition in the pole vault June 25, 2020.
Rockland/Westchester Journal News
The kid who, despite asthma, started running as a 5-year-old and was competing at the U.S. Track & Field Nationals two years later was frustrated. The kid who, by age 12, was high jumping 5 feet 3 inches despite being under 5 feet tall was ready to move on.
Early on, no obstacle seemed too high.
But a 14-year-old Miguel Negrete, a freshman pole vaulter at Fordham Prep, cleared a bar just 6 feet 6 inches off the ground during his first meet.
He was still barely 5 feet tall and watched vaulters flying high above him, wondering how he’d ever get to the next level. Hard work wasn’t paying many dividends.
“I didn’t trust myself to actually do the event,” the Yonkers native recalled. “I wanted to go back to the high jump. I was ready to quit. My dad said, ‘No, do it at least one season.’ “
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Step into a time machine for a short ride. It’s March 2020 and Negrete is a half-a-foot taller senior at Fordham Prep. He’s just gained dual citizenship. Now, he’s a Honduran, as well as an American citizen.
And, just like that, he’s the all-time leading pole vaulter for his mom’s native land and is being asked to compete internationally for the country.
Now he’s permitting himself to dream a little … one day, someday, somehow Olympic dreams.
“It’s really crazy how things changed in four years to now,” said Negrete, 18, who’ll study economics, pole vault and compete in decathlon next year for Bucknell University.
The changes began not long after his dad (also Miguel) gave him that at-least-one-season talk.
His friendly rivalry with recent Iona Prep grad Nick Cannistraci helped his development.
So did his “tremendous work ethic,” pole vaulting coach/head freshman coach Brian Carney said, calling Negrete a “real competitor,” in addition to being a very good athlete.
Negrete had vastly improved by the Catholic high schools intersectional championships that first season. There, he and Cannistraci were locked in a battle. The bar went up to 10-6. Cannistraci missed on his three attempts. Negrete missed on his first two, then the bar stayed up on his final try. That gave him third place overall in the meet and first among freshmen and sophomores.
It also gave him surge of confidence and extra motivation.
“I thought, ‘This is my chance to break myself away from the norm of track and field,’ ” Negrete said.
Fordham Prep graduate and Yonkers resident Miguel Negrete is hoping to represent Hondurous in international competition in the pole vault June 25, 2020. (Photo: Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal News)
Still 14 in March of that first season, he cleared 11-7.75 at the USATF Hershey Youth Indoor National Championships to win bronze in the boys 15-16 age division pole vault. He also took bronze in high jump at 5-7.
At the time, that vault was a Fordham Prep school record for freshmen.
So, maybe it’s not so surprising that Negrete, who as a 5-year-old couldn’t walk a block without using his inhaler but who pushed himself one day to run with his cousins and then run some more and who eventually ran right away from ever needing that inhaler again, has cleared six feet in the high jump and 15-6 in pole vault.
That vault garnered him fourth place at this winter’s State Federation Track & Field Championships.
His dad, who’s originally from Mexico and ran cross-country for a time in high school, was watching. So was his mom, Wendy Suazo, who’d played soccer as a kid in a country where most people are poor, teenagers are often married with their own children and where athletics is “more about fun and relaxing than competing and pursuing a dream.”
Miguel’s sister, Prizila, was there, too. The Ursuline freshman, who, for a few days this winter, was the girls freshman national season-leader in the shot put, told Miguel their dad did a 360-degree spin in the air when he cleared 15-6.
Fordham Prep’s Miguel Negrete of Yonkers competes in the pole vault during the New York State Track Championships in Middletown on June 7, 2019. (Photo: Patrick Oehler/The Journal News)
Miguel, usually super-serious and stone-faced at meets, wasn’t this time. His smile was wide.
After he cleared the height, several opponents, members of the very strong “pole vaulting community” mobbed him.
Then he saw his folks.
“My mom and dad couldn’t stop smiling to the point I had tears,” Negrete said,
He credits part of his success to his Fordham Prep coaches, Carney and varsity head coach George Febles. The two had approached him at a CYO meet when Negrete was a sixth-grader Yonkers’ Sacred Heart Grade School. They seemed incredulous watching him high jump 5 feet 3 inches right after he’d completed a long race. They spoke of how he could prosper in high jump for Fordham Prep and how they thought he’d also like another event – pole vault.
But it’s his parents to whom he gives the lion’s share of credit.
They’re the ones who made sure he got to nationals everywhere from North Carolina to California. They’re people who, Carney said, “have worked hard to give their kids what they probably didn’t have growing up.”
Their motto, repeated countless times over the years, is, “Don’t wish for it, work for it.”
“I always thought if it’s tough for me, it’s something I should pursue. They instilled this drive in me. My mom and dad pushed me to be the absolute best person and athlete I can be,” Negrete said.
The Honduran citizenship had been his dad’s idea. He’d broached the subject with his son after a February meet by asking over dinner, “How’d you like to have a national record?”
Without his son’s knowledge, his dad had been in touch with the head of the Honduran Olympic Committee.
Carney described himself as thrilled when hearing about Negrete’s future.
Miguel? Well, his father’s question left him shocked.
“I don’t know the rushing that came through me. I couldn’t be sitting in the chair. It’s hard to explain the feeling,” Negrete said.
It wasn’t just about seeing his name in a record book and about having opportunities to compete he likely would never have with solely American citizenship, since the U.S. has a deep pole vaulting corps.
It was about family.
In little more than a year, Negrete lost both his maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother.
His grandfather was Honduran and had lived there.
“He’d always wanted to watch me jump,” Negrete said.
Regret lingers that never occurred, but now he could represent his grandfather’s country.
“I wanted him to know his grandson did something meaningful,” he said.
That’s scheduled to start in Nicaragua in October at the Under-20 Central American Championships. In December, he’s scheduled to compete in the Central American Senior Championships in Costa Rica. He’s expected to gain the podium in both places.
Whatever ribbons, trophies or plaques he may win will have a home with his dad.
“He has every major medal and plaque I’ve won on his wall,” Negrete said. “He pushed me to do something I was not comfortable with. It’s something I’ll always thank him for.”
Nancy Haggerty covers cross-country, track & field, field hockey, skiing, ice hockey, girls lacrosse and other sporting events for The Journal News/lohud. Follow her on Twitter at both @HaggertyNancy and at @LoHudHockey.
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