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By Paul Martin
Luis Orta has a passion for running, and it turns out he is very good at his passion. A first place finish for the Cats’ runner capped an amazing weekend for UK’s cross country team in Nashville, Tenn. Orta’s individual time of 15:22.40 in the 5K portion of the event elevated the UK team to victory with 62 points. Four days after the win, Orta was recognized as the SEC Men’s Runner of the Week. According to Orta, credit must be delivered partially to his tough offseason training.
“During the summer I race and practice in my home country of Venezuela, so I’m already in shape for the beginning of the season when I get back to UK,” Orta said.
Orta was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela. He was recruited by UK after high school and decided it was the best fit for him. He then made the voyage to the United States, but it was not without difficulties.
“Before I moved to Kentucky, I didn’t know very much English,” Orta said. “The transition was difficult to make, but the teachers and coaches have really helped me a lot. The support has been incredible.”
It is evident that this student athlete has made much progress since arriving at UK. He is currently working on a double major in international commerce and Spanish, with a minor in Latin American Studies. Orta added with a smile, “I love Lexington; it is an awesome place. I’m happy and comfortable, and I really appreciate the safety here. It’s a dream come true.”
The future looks bright for Orta. He will compete in the Pan American Games hosted by Guadalajara, Mexico, in October. This particular event is second only to the Olympics in terms of importance to the sport of cross-country. Orta will participate in the 5K race and the 3K steeplechase event, both conducted on regular track surfaces. When asked about what Orta needs to do in preparation for the Pan American Games, UK cross country head coach Don Weber said, “What he can do is to continue to work hard and be daring on the track. He has to be willing to take risks during the race to discover his full ability and potential.”
The term “team player” is tossed around loosely these days in the current landscape of college athletics, but not when it comes to Orta. His goal for UK’s cross-country team is to compete at the top end of the SEC during the 2011-2012 campaign and make the playoffs at the national level. Civic duty is also on the agenda when Orta is not at the track.
“Last year I did a shoe drive with teammate Josh Nadzam for less fortunate people,” Orta said. “Giving back to the community is very important to me.”
UK also has Orta as an ambassador to Venezuela. Cats fans live and cheer from just about every corner of the world, including his hometown of Caracas.
“Everyone back home in my family wears UK gear that I sent them,” Orta said. “They all know about UK sports.”