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ON THE RIGHT TRACK
EIGHTH-GRADER TAKING STEPS TOWARD OLYMPICS

Sam Hasan was months away from shipping his firstborn off to school when he realized she was more than his adorable little princess. He had removed the training wheels from her bicycle, but riding a two-wheeler on the sidewalks wasn't quite challenging enough. She was begging for more.

Alyissa wasn't necessarily looking to go faster, just farther. She wanted to ride with him along the Amherst bike path. She begged the way kids do when they want more juice or more candy. He resisted before caving the way fathers do when their daughters beg long enough.

So they peddled once around the track near the University at Buffalo campus. He looked back every few seconds, making sure she didn't fall behind or, worse, fall on her face. There she was, right with him, her little legs chugging every inch of those 12 1/2 miles.

She was 4 years old.

"She was practically a baby," Sam Hasan said Tuesday. "I couldn't believe she was keeping up with me, but she stayed with me. This was a little bike with little wheels, and I wondered how many times she would have to pedal around. I mean I was getting tired. She'd get off and say, "OK, Daddy, let's go swimming.' "

It seemed a fitting journey for this tike on a bike given her direction in life. Alyissa's sights are now set on reaching the Olympics, an absurd dream given the percentages. It seems a distant goal born from childhood innocence, but you can't help but believe after examining how much she's accomplished and how much potential remains untapped.

She qualified for nine events in the Section IV track and field championships this season. Nine. She won the state pentathlon by 300 points, an amazing feat considering it was just the third time she participated in the five-stage event. It's more amazing when you learn she had the largest margin of victory and her 3,394 points were the second-most in state history.

Predictably, it didn't take long for the letters to start flowing in from Division I track and field powers. UCLA, LSU, Kansas and Alabama quickly expressed interest after the state meet. Troy State sent an invitation for a campus visit before realizing it might be a tad early.

After all, she's only 14.

Three months away from beginning her freshman year at Williamsville South High, she already holds two sectional records and eight school records. She holds another five state records for eighth-graders. She was a step away from the highest level of U.S. gymnastics when she was 9, but she broke her leg and grew nearly a foot in two years, leading her to track and field.

Now she's 5-foot-8 and 135 pounds, a sculpted athlete and a woman by every standard other than age. And she's an honors student looking to become a forensic pathologist when her athletic career is over. For most of us, our goal at 14 is reaching 15, not working toward the Olympics and a career in modern science.

If only there was a formula for this dream child.

She's from an athletic family. Sam Hasan played football and ran track in high school and was an established amateur boxer. His wife, Susan Hasan, played softball and was a cheerleader. Alyissa's maternal grandfather, Peter Yuhas, was a minor leaguer in the Philadelphia Phillies' organization. Her uncle, Peter Jr., was a Division I college hockey player.

Alyissa is an athletic phenomenon blessed with great speed, the main vehicle for her success in the hurdles, long jump, triple jump and high jump. But she's no genetic freak. Her competitive spirit is matched only by her work ethic, and one feeds the other. The more she succeeds, the harder she works. The harder she works, the more she succeeds.

Self-motivation is the one trait common among the best athletes, but she's among the few who place their own standards ahead of mere victories. For example, the thrill she experienced after winning the state pentathlon lasted about three seconds after she reminded herself how she failed to meet her own goals in the individual events. The title alone wasn't enough.

"No," she said. "I look at that, and I know I still haven't reached my potential yet. I still have three or four more feet in the shot put I could throw. I still have a good foot in the long jump. I have to bring my hurdle time down. I can probably run my 800 (meters) time a little faster. I know can get better."

Remember, she has been committed to track and field for only two years. Imagine what will happen if she continues her natural progression and avoids serious injury. She's in the good hands of Williamsville South coach Chuck Godfrey, respected in track-and-field circles. Already, pound for pound, Alyissa has to be listed among the best athletes in Western New York. There won't be any argument if she keeps improving over the next four years.

It would be understandable to assume her parents are pushing her toward greatness - or burnout - but it's actually the opposite. The Hasans for years have been preaching fun over excellence to their three children. It's a refreshing message nowadays in a sports world of overbearing parents.

Sam Hasan even suggested she skip the state track championships to attend Class Night with her friends at Heim Middle School. He's a part-time track coach straddling the line of encouraging her to reach her goals without skipping her childhood. If anything, he's trying to pull back. She won't let him.

"You hear someone saying, "My son wants to go to the Olympics' and "My daughter wants to go to the Olympics,' " he said. "You think of everything that goes with it, the training, the commitment, all that. But we still want her to be our daughter. We still want her to be Alyissa Hasan, you know, a kid. We still want her to be happy and healthy, to have fun. That's what's important. There's only so much a parent and a coach can do. The rest is her and her inner drive."

Alyissa's inner drive next weekend will carry them to Rowan University in New Jersey, where she will participate in the Eastern Regional for the Junior Olympics. She's already a junior All-American in the long jump and triple jump.

But, just like she did a decade ago, she keeps pushing for more. Two events aren't enough. She'll be competing in eight - the high jump, long jump and hurdles and the five events making up the pentathlon. The National Junior Olympics are July 24-29 in Sacramento, Calif. You can bet she'll be there.

"She's the real deal," Lancaster coach Kevin Carriero said. "She really has unlimited potential. I think the sky is the limit for her. She's the only one who will ultimately place the boundaries on herself and where she's going. There's a fire burning in there somewhere. It's an inferno."

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