Their names are Batman, Firestarter, Joker, Quiet Storm and Wild Thing. They are strong, fast and conditioned and although their names may be somewhat peculiar, they have the same goals as any other group of athletes: commitment to training hard and winning.
For these five elite members of the New Life Inc. Air Capital wheelchair track team, this commitment has meant spending five hours a day, every day, for the past three weeks intensely preparing for the 1990 National Junior Wheelchair Games, which began yesterday in Denver.
Coached by Bill Greene, 1984 and 1988 Olympic wheelchair track coach, and Brenda Greene, Air Capital assistant coach, these five athletes -- Sergio "Batman" Zuniga, 8; Andrea "Firestarter" McConnell, 12; Avery "Joker" Moore, 13; Tequila "Quiet Storm" Belton, 15, and Gerald "Wild Thing" Smith, 16 -- are believed to be among the best sprinters in the nation.
Bill and Brenda Greene have developed an extremely successful four-day rotational pyramid workout format that, coupled with their specially constructed wheelchairs -- Titan 3 racers -- has landed their athletes numerous gold medals in national and international competitions. Moore, for instance, has just returned from the World Youth Games in France, where he captured gold medals in the 100-, 200-, 400- and 800-meter events.
The first day of the pyramid consists of six to eight sets of 100-meter sprints, both straight and through turns. On the second day of the rotation, six to eight sets of 200-meter sprints are added to the 100-meter sprints. Day 3 concentrates on two to three sets of 300-meter sprints with a one-minute rest followed by a 100-meter sprint. Day 4 is a combination of two or three of the previous stages but allows time for specialty work on starts and turns.
All phases of the pyramid are prefaced by a warm-up period and include a five-minute ramp workout, which builds strength and quickness on the starting line. The athletes also work out on Universal weightlifting equipment three times a week to concentrate on arm and wrist strength.
Teaching his athletes to accelerate through the turns is part of Greene's winning philosophy.
"The other competitors usually rest through the turns," said Greene. "They aren't expecting anyone to accelerate. This psyches them out."
Another of Air Capital's techniques is teaching their racers to push through the entire event. In practice, the coaches set the finish line about 10 meters longer than the actual race distance. According to Greene, this prevents stopping before the race is over.
Part of the team's training philosophy is to never run the entire distance of the race in practice. If, for example, the racer is scheduled to run an 800-meter event, he/she will never do the entire 800 meters in practice. Instead they will run a 700-meter stretch followed by a one-minute rest and then a 100-meter sprint. "I don't want to leave our best times in practice," said Greene, "I'd rather save them for the competition. The kids will decide how they'll finish their race."
But Air Capital's coaching philosophy stretches beyond the practice field or the sport. He and the other members of New Life, Inc., a peer counseling program for handicapped in the D.C. area, are primarily concerned about the athlete's future in society. Sports just happens to be one way of teaching discipline, courage and perseverance.
"Life is about taking chances and risks," said Greene, "even if it's just a matter of learning to raise your hand in class and seek out information for yourself."
Competition teaches the athletes how to set life goals as well as athletic goals and gives them the skills and confidence necessary to achieve them. "We want them to know that being physically handicapped isn't the worst thing that can happen to them," said Greene.
During the school year and when the team isn't training for a special competition, members practice in the evenings and on weekends, regardless of the weather. According to Greene, practicing in inclement weather teaches them how to compete in hostile conditions. "They'll be prepared for whatever happens," he said.
All athletes must maintain a minimum grade-point average of 2.0 in order to compete with the team. Those who fall below are placed on academic suspension and are required to bring the coaches a weekly progress report signed by the their parents and teachers.
Everyone on the 40-member team wants to win, but for most it's the social aspect that comes with being on the team that they enjoy the most. According to Zuniga, being a team member gives them a chance to get out of the house and do something productive. And, according to Belton, it keeps them out of trouble.