Kaylyn Rodriguez
Kaylyn Rodriguez, The Right Stuff (courtesy Betancourt Photography)

What are we asking of our parents and teachers these days?  Where is the “right thing” to be found in a world of moral relativists and sinners, but seemingly devoid of saints?

In the corrosive wake of the decades-long Catholic Church child-abuse scandal, the recently revealed wide-spread secret NSA spying apparatus, and now the George Zimmerman ‘No Fault’ acquittal in Florida, and (lesser for sure) Tyson Gay-Asafa Powell drug failures in track, where, exactly, does one point to fair play and equal justice and not get a cynical smirk in reply?

Last Thursday the final San Diego all-comers Summer Nights Track & Field Meet of the season was staged at Lincoln High School.  There, a wide-range of athletes in both talent and age ran and jumped in a joyous expression of human exertion.  Amidst the scandals and scars of world politics and pro sports there remains a semblance of purity to these all-comers meets where the likes of Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay most likely got their starts, as well.

Mariana Morales Holding Form
Mariana Morales, 8, Holding Form  (courtesy Betancourt Photography)

Among the competitors at Lincoln High was six year-old Kaylyn Rodriguez, a first-grader at Birney Elementary School who was competing in her first-ever 1500 meter race. With grim determination young Kaylyn fought through the discomfort and finished in 7:14.51, not far behind her eight year-old, second-grade friend Mariana Morales who had come through in 6:29.20.

Cheering for Dad
Cheering for Dad

Later, Kaylyn’s dad, Jose, ran his heat of the 1500 in 5:39.4 cheered to the finish by Kaylyn, Mariana, and cousin Simon.

“We are very disappointed in hearing about this (Tyson Gay’s positive drug test),” Kaylyn’s dad Jose wrote me via e-mail. “We have been following him for the last year and have even mentioned him to our daughter Kaylyn. It’s a shame when well-known athletes who have a lot going for them resort to taking any type of substance to improve their already natural skill, especially being the face of the whole nation for track and field sprinters.”

Rodriguez Family: Jose, Lettie, Kaylyn & cousin Simon
Rodriguez Family: Jose & Lettie with Kaylyn & cousin Simon

“We as a family are completely against cheating, we do our best to teach our daughter right from wrong and have always told her the only way to become successful in life is to be honest and give it your all. It’s sad to hear about Tyson.  He had the potential and was the closest sprinter to have the ability to beat Usain Bolt.  Now the U.S. has to wait for our next best sprinter and hope he doesn’t fall into the sad end that some of our greatest athletes have fallen into. I pray that with time, our future athletes all learn to understand that they aren’t just hurting themselves, but the children that grow up admiring them.”

Kaylyn and Mariana will finish their school year on Friday. Throughout the year they have been participating in a pre-school running program which awards a Little Foot for each five miles completed.  According to dad, Kaylyn is well on her way to achieving her goal of collecting 20 Little Feet for the year.

“She’s at 19 feet now,” he informed me, “which equals 95 Miles. She has the next four days to complete her last 5 miles, we are really cheering her on and feel she will accomplish her goal. We are very proud of her.”

In 2003, USATF launched its ZERO TOLERANCE policy, featuring a comprehensive anti-drug messaging plan. One of its main tenants was to spread the message that drug use is morally wrong – and cheaters will be caught.  To help deliver that message, beginning in 2004 USATF joined with the American College of Sports Medicine to launch an elite athlete outreach program, now called “Win with Integrity.”

Mariana & Kaylyn, BFFLs
Mariana & Kaylyn, BFFLs

At each Visa Championship Series stop, and at other events around the country, USATF’s star athletes speak with local schools and community centers about the importance of fitness, a healthy lifestyle, living with integrity — including a drug-free life — and setting goals. To date, thousands of children have been reached in person with more than a million being exposed to “Win with Integrity” through television messaging.

All very well and good, but maybe among the sanctions applied to those who have been caught taking performance-enhancing substances there should be follow-up visits to places like Birney Elementary school where posters of the guilty are prominently displayed as the faces of cheating.

Bring them into the classrooms and have them explain themselves to the Little Feeters like Kaylyn and Mariana and their parents. Certainly, the two and four year bans of the past, or even loss of shoe contracts, don’t seem to have had any deleterious effect.  How about old-fashioned shame?



  1. Sadly, it is a lack of shame that enables them to feel like this is okay to do. It puts me in mind of the Alexander Pope couplet-“vice is a monster of so frightful mein, to be hated, needs but to be seen. But seen too oft, familiar with her face, we first endure,then pity, then embrace.”

    The more familiar the face of cheating becomes, the more likely people are to endure it, then pity it, then embrace it.

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