For years, CJ Ondy kept fighting his destiny. Despite every coach he had being impressed by his speed, running track was never on his radar.
Getting his head knocked around, however, changed that way of thinking drastically.
“I played football and lacrosse for a while, I played baseball for a long time and I was always told a consistent thing through all those sports is that I was really quick off the line or out of the batter’s box,” the recent Robbinsville High graduate said. “That’s one thing that stayed consistent is they noticed how fast I was.”
That ability didn’t just appear in high school.
“I remember at Sharon School, we’d do these little races down the field, all our friends would do it, and I’d always win,” Ondy said. “Everyone would say, ‘Oh you need to race CJ to see how fast you actually run.’”
Despite having the size of a small wide receiver, Ondy was put at center for the Ravens freshman football team because of his ability to explode off the line.
“I was one of the smallest guys on the field when I played center,” he said. “It was my first year of playing football, and they put me at that spot. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I did pretty well. That’s when I got my third concussion. I played lacrosse in the spring and hurt my elbow. I was done with contact sports, and my parents were fine with that. Let’s do a sport with no contact.”
Common sense led Ondy to the track, and it was almost like the sport was saying, “Where the heck have you been?”
Ondy’s ability in the sprints was obvious from the start. By his senior year, he became the first athlete in RHS history to break 11 seconds in the 100 meters (which he did three times) and he is third on the school’s all-time 200 meters chart with a 22.83. This past year, he reached the 55 meters at indoor Meet of Champions for the second straight year, reached the outdoor MOC in the 100 for the first time, and qualified for the New Balance Nationals for the third straight year. His career will continue at The College of New Jersey.
And that’s after just three years of serious running. How good might he be had he started in middle school?
“I’ve thought about that for a while, and I still think about it today,” Ondy said. “I’m running with guys who I’m beating who’ve been doing this since sixth grade, and I wonder ‘What if I did it in sixth grade, how good would I be?’ But I’m just happy I found it in the first place.”
So is Robbinsville coach Anthony Dentino, who was an assistant to Jon Hutchinson during Ondy’s sophomore year, and took over the program last year when Hutchinson took an assistant’s job at TCNJ (where he joined Mike Walker, another former Ravens coach).
“He’s always been naturally pretty fast, he’s always had a quick first step,” Dentino said. “These are things he always had before he even came into our program. But when he first got into our program he started to buy into it and had a lot of success.
“He’s a great kid and he’s gone through a lot and worked really hard to get where he is and he busts his butt every day in practice. He’s working on his starts, he’s very technically sound, he listens to all the coaching. He’s one of the kids you want to have that kind of success.”
Ondy has dealt with nagging injuries as well as a coaching change between his sophomore and junior seasons. But the latter issue was actually made better by all the parties involved.
“It was tough because I felt I found some coaches I felt comfortable talking with,” Ondy said. “It was hard changing coaches, but I realized the new ones are cool, too. They’re smart, they know what they’re talking about it. Looking back now it was a lot smoother than it could have been.”
“We’re lucky,” Dentino said. “The people he was with are still in the building and still have a hand in the program in the sense that they care and reach out to him. He’s got a lot of support. Now it’s smooth sailing and perfectly normal. He did such a great job of adjusting to that change. It’s not an easy change. We really appreciated it.”
Ondy put up some decent times as a sophomore but most of that year was a learning process. Improvement was evident as a junior when he ran an indoor time of 23.73 to finish seventh in the 200 at the Mercer County meet, and a PR of 6.67 to take third in the 55. He took fifth in the Central Jersey Group II meet, finished sixth in the Group II state meet and 25th in the Meet of Champions. Outdoors he was a distant 16th in the MCT in the 100 and ninth in the CJ II meet. He also ran on numerous relay teams, including the 4×400 that finished second in the Mercer and CJ II meets.
The following fall, after a year of convincing, Dentino got Ondy to try cross country even though he is a sprinter.
“When he decided on that, I knew it would be special,” the coach said. “It’s so not him, so when he made that commitment, it was my moment of clarity of like, ‘OK, this kid really gets it, and wants it.’”
Ondy ran the races but was still trained like a sprinter. He embraced the work each day, got bigger and stronger and was able to hit the ground running when winter track began. Although running 3.1 miles is vastly different than running 100 or 200 meters, Ondy feels the experience was worth it.
“I think it helped in terms of my endurance,” he said. “I didn’t train that much in terms of distance in cross country, I still did sprint work, but I felt like the endurance helped me a lot and kept me in shape. I was still around the same people and same environment with the coaches. It was a good environment to stay in and to be used to everything. It also helped me stay in shape.”
The results were obvious as he ran an indoor PR of 6.63 to take third in the Group II championships, and moved up to 20th in the Meet of Champions. In the spring, he finally reached his goal of breaking 11 seconds in the 100 with a 10.81 in the trials and a 10.79 for a second-place finish at the CJ II meet. He also ran a 22.98 for a third in the 200 at CJ II.
One specific area Ondy worked on was his start, as he got to see some of the top sprinters in the nation at the Meet of Champions and Nationals.
“Earlier in the season I saw some things that I could change in my start that benefited me in the long run,” Ondy said. “The way (the other runners’) form changed during the races kind of helped me. I learned a lot from them and saw high class runners doing what they do best. Coaches help me out a lot too but just experiencing going against really fast guys, there’s a reason why they run so fast.”
Dentino feels Ondy will continue to improve at TCNJ, which was CJ’s first-choice overall. He will be re-united with Hutchinson and have a strong head coach in Justin Lindsey.
“He’s a great guy, he really gets it and he takes good care of the kids over there,” Dentino said. “CJ’s really gonna flourish there. He’s gonna be cared for, he’s close to home so he’s got the support system that’s pretty close to him and I think he’s gonna be awesome.”