Local track athlete heading to Oregon for regional competition

Junie Smiley selling meat sticks to fund trip


Nathaniel “Junie” Smiley Jr., 9, Yelm, has qualified for the 2024 United States Track and Field (USATF) Region 13 Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, Oregon, from July 4 through July 7.

It took hard work over about six months and a little help from some smoked meat sticks. At the USATF Pacific Northwest Association Junior Olympic Championships on June 23, Smiley finished second in both the 800-meter event and 4x400 relay while taking first in the 1,500-meter dash.

As well, Smiley and his family sold teriyaki and pepperoni meat sticks through social media to raise money for the trip. They sold nearly 400 meat sticks to supporters around the local community.

Smiley is finishing his first season of track and field for the Nitro 1 Sports Fighting Eagles Track Club, but the Fort Stevens Elementary fourth grader also plays football, soccer and basketball.

He began competing in track to improve his speed in other sports, but after working with coaches, he fell in love with the sport and is hungry to keep going. He set a personal best in the 800-meter event at the regional qualifiers with a time of 2 minutes, 35.28 seconds, and was just over a second away from breaking his best mark in the 1,500 meters.

“I want to get 10 times better at track. I want to set a world record,” Smiley said.

He will compete in all three of his events in Oregon at regionals for a chance to travel to College Station, Texas, for the USATF National Junior Olympic Championships at Texas A&M University from July 22 through July 28. The top-five finishers in the regional meet will head to Texas, but Smiley and his family are looking to raise more money for that trip.

John Jones, Smiley’s coach at Nitro 1 Sports Fighting Eagles Track Club, described the youngster as coachable, a fast learner and competitive.

“His growth has been refreshing to witness. Watching him go from zero understanding of how to run some of the more difficult runs for his age and learning the strategies for these runs has been awesome,” he said. “On top of it all, Junie is a funny and caring athlete.”

His mother, Ricci Smiley, and father, Nathaniel Sr., said Junie has grown in just the last half year since he started competing in track.

“I feel like it’s really built up his confidence. He works really hard at it. I’m really impressed with how far he’s taken this,” Ricci said. “He amazes me with his drive and his resilience.”

Junie’s parents are appreciative of the community support to help their son book his trip to regionals in Oregon and to make a visit to Texas for nationals a legitimate opportunity.

“It helps that he’s a very outgoing kid. We go to parent-teacher meetings, and he’s walking through hugging every teacher and hugging everybody,” Nathaniel Sr. said.

Ricci added that Junie is all about being a good teammate and friend to those with whom he competes.

“He’s a kid that picks up the underdog. He doesn’t like for somebody to be left out. He always tries to pull them along or boost them up,” she said.

To donate to Junie’s cause, visit Ricci Smiley on Facebook or @thegr8_juniesmiley on Instagram.