Lake Highlands Junior High School will start its 1995 track season this month with a national champion on its team.

Eighth-grader Shea Nero won a gold medal last summer in the 400-meter dash at the Arco Jesse Owens Nationals for track and field, held at the Olympic Training Facility in Pasadena, Calif. Nero competed against top runners from around the country in the girls 13- to 14 age group.

Nero took first at city, state and southwest regional meets to qualify for the Owens Nationals, a competition named after the American athlete who won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics in track and field.

Both Nero and her father, Bob, who traveled with Shea to the tournament, were surprised she did so well. “I thought I’d probably get third,” Nero says.

“No matter what, I was going to cheer as loud as I could and give Shea a hug at the end, but she told me she was going to try and win, and she did,” Bob says. “I made a fool out of myself, which surprised me because I’m usually cool about these sort of things.”

Nero participated in her first track and field meet season last spring as a seventh-grader. Her event was the 400, and she won first place at every meet in which she competed.

“Shea works really hard,” says LHJH coach Deanna Harris. “She’s got a lot of heart.”

At last year’s RISD track and field championships, Nero broke a 6-year-old junior high record for girls in the 400 meter dash by a second and a half.

Prior to last year’s season, Nero had no experience with track, but she had competed in several other sports, including soccer, volleyball and basketball.

“Imagine our surprise,” Bob says. “We (he and his wife Billie) were just hoping Shea wouldn’t fall down, and she became a champion.”

After breaking the district record, Nero decided to train for track over the summer with the Texas Star Track Club, which prepared her for the Owens Nationals. The club is a member of USA Track and Field, the organization that decides who competes on the U.S. Olympic team.

This school year, Nero plans to run the 800 meters in addition to the 400.

Over the summer, Nero placed second in the 800 at the Texas Amateur Athletic Federation State Championships.

“I know if Shea does her best, there aren’t many people who are going to touch her,” Harris says. “She’s a phenomenal athlete.”