TAMPA — Rarely do his badge and stopwatch intersect. For years, Tampa police Cpl. Mark Altimari successfully has moonlighted as Robinson distance-running coach, with the roles never being blurred.
But at the dawn of track season, he wanted to bust Julia DeYoung for lethargy.
Only months before, the junior International Baccalaureate student had finished runnerup at the district cross country meet and seventh at regionals. Her preseason distance workouts in track also had been promising.
Then, to Altimari’s dismay, DeYoung began slowing. The spring in her step regressed into a trudge. Her legs became heavy, her breathing heavier.
“That’s when I told her, ‘You need to be a little tougher,’ ” Altimari recalled.
It’s the last time Officer Altimari has brought DeYoung’s toughness in for questioning. Two days later, DeYoung informed him she had been diagnosed with mononucleosis.
Saturday, she’ll compete in the 4x800-meter relay at the Class 2A state meet. In the 69 days since her Feb. 13 diagnosis — which arrived a day shy of her 17th birthday — she has caught up on both her homework and half-mile competitors.
“She can endure a lot,” Altimari said.
It’s a banner crop of middle distance runners Altimari’s taking to the University of North Florida this weekend. For the first time in program history, both the Knights boys and girls 4x800 relay teams qualified for state.
Sixty days ago, few could’ve dreamed DeYoung would be part of the contingent.
Her spleen swollen and her appetite shrunken, she refused to eat or drink, and couldn’t budge from her couch. Only when her mom, Alisandra McGuinness, threatened her with hospitalization did DeYoung agree to two or three strawberry-banana smoothies a day.
“She definitely did not get a small case of it, that’s for sure,” McGuiness said.
She missed a week of school outright. Her first week back, she possessed only enough energy to stick around for two or three hours. In all, DeYoung missed 14 homework assignments and the initial leg of track season.
“I was worried she’d suffer there because the IB program the junior year is very competitive,” McGuinness said.
A week after returning to school full time, however, DeYoung, who owns a 5.57 weighted GPA, had caught up with her classwork. Less expeditious was her return to competitive distance racing.
Though doctors suggested she take six weeks off, DeYoung returned to the Knights in about 3 1/2. Careful so as not to risk a ruptured spleen, her initial miles were run at roughly a 10-minute pace.
Her first live test arrived at the USF/Steinbrenner Invitational on a warm mid-March afternoon. Competing in the 1,600, DeYoung finished in 34th place (5:58.35) — nearly a full minute behind the winner.
“I basically bombed the mile because I should’ve dropped at 800 (meters) when I started to get stomach pains,” she said. “But I told my coach I’d rather get last than not run.”
Realizing the quest for the extra mile may induce nausea, Altimari and DeYoung opted for the half-mile instead. By the time of the April 2 Hillsborough County championships, DeYoung was healthy enough to run the first leg in the 4x800.
Robinson was seventh. “But that’s all she had, like one and done,” Altimari said.
She replenished her tank with at least a gallon and a half of water daily. Ten days later at the District 9 meet, she placed second in the open 800 (2:29.37), ran the fastest leg on the Knights’ runnerup 4x800 team, and also did a leg for the second-place 4x400 team.
At last week’s Region 3 meet in Titusville, the 4x800 team was fourth, earning the final state meet qualifying spot. Suddenly, DeYoung still has trouble digesting again. The scenario before her remains tough to swallow.
“I would’ve said, ‘Yeah, right,’ ” she said. “I probably wouldn’t have believed it at all, because (two months ago) I didn’t even think I’d be at districts.”
Where: University of North Florida, Jacksonville
When: Friday (Class A) and Saturday (2A)
Admission: $9 per meet. Parking is $8.
Schedule: 1 p.m. — Field events and 4x800 relay; 4 p.m. — running event preliminaries; 6:30 p.m. — running event finals
A girls qualifiers: Cambridge Christian — Madison Cox (200), Morgan Renaldo (200, 400); Carrollwood Day — Kailiece Harris (400); Seffner Christian — Samantha Plager (high jump), Sabrina Whiting (pole vault, long jump); Tampa Bay Christian — T’Erra Johnson (discus); Tampa Prep — Emma Golterman (100 hurdles, 300 hurdles), Gabrielle Johnson (triple jump), Carly Reiner (long jump, triple jump, 100)
A boys qualifiers: Cambridge Christian — Luke Steinle (300 hurdles), Josh Wolcott (triple jump); Seffner Christian — Josh Keenan (3,200), Seth Lewis (discus), Robbie Shell (long jump); Tampa Bay Christian — Jamari Johnson (discus); Tampa Prep — Qaseem Wajd (800)
2A boys qualifiers: Berkeley Prep — Max Borland (3,200), John McDonald (pole vault); Jesuit — Nick Catchur (pole vault), Jack Hughes (pole vault), Vincent Jackson (shot put), Jack Taylor (shot put); Middleton — Brown Cassell (4x800 relay), Daniel Dean (4x800 relay), Gioberti Derogene (4x800 relay), James Hambrick (long jump), Kevin White (4x800 relay); Robinson — Terrance Baldwin (4x400 relay), Jahrvis Davenport (4x100 relay), Carlos Duclos (100, 4x100 relay), Trevon Hosley (4x400 relay), Dylan Jurski (4x800 relay), Brandon Peters (4x400 relay, 4x800 relay), Robert Priester (4x100 relay, 4x400 relay), Jack Rogers (4x800 relay, 800), Martin Ruiz (4x100 relay), Fredrick Stanford (4x800 relay); Spoto — Eric Moate (200)
2A girls qualifiers: Academy of the Holy Names — Gillian Anthony (4x400 relay), Colleen Doherty (4x800 relay), Natalie Hahn (4x800 relay), Siobhan Lynch (4x400 relay), Melissa Mainzer (4x800 relay), Ryann McEnany (100 hurdles, 300 hurdles, 4x400 relay), Becca Patterson (4x400 relay), Claire Snyder (1,600, 3,200, 4x800 relay); Berkeley Prep — Addi Harden (discus, shot put), Georgette Price (800); Robinson — Julia DeYoung (4x800 relay), Aaliyah Gordon (4x800 relay), Maddy Hull (3,200, 4x800 relay), Madison Scanlan (4x800 relay), Emily Vaughan (pole vault); Spoto — Janae Caldwell (200, 400); Tampa Catholic — Nicole Carroll (pole vault), Betia Washington (400)