Junior A.J. Lee, as he describes it, is blessed.

The biology major and Longmeadow, Mass. native is the ‘Jackets’ speediest 500 meter runner on the indoor track, improving his time this past weekend to put him in prime position for the Eastern College Athletic Conference Championships in March.

But for the football player-wannabe turned track star and co-captain, running isn’t necessarily a means to something as much as it is an end in itself.

How’d you get started with track?

At first, in high school, I actually went in trying to play football. My mom said I was a little too skinny for that and that I would get killed, so instead she said, “Why don’t you try cross country?’ And at first I said no, this is horrible; I don’t want to run my whole life. But I ended up doing cross country and I actually excelled. … And instead of doing baseball [in the spring], which is usually my thing, it ended up making more sense just to continue on.

Do you have a track and field role model?

That’s a good question. I don’t actually watch a lot of track and field, which is kind of funny.

But I was always an 800-meter runner, and I always like watching this one runner who was from Russia. His name was Yuriy Borzakovskiy. He’s a very good 800-meter runner, but what’s so special about him is that he would always go out at an even pace, laying at the back of the field, enjoying his time, but at the end he would out-kick every single runner. It was always a race to watch, because you never knew when he was going to kick.

Why did you decide to come to UR?

It’s an interesting story. The school that really wanted me to run track for them was University of Vermont. But for me, Division I would be a little too competitive, and I really wanted to excel academically.

[UR] offered a lot of academic success, and I thought that it would be the best place to go. I could still be competitive, but doing the stuff I wanted to do in sciences here, rather than up in Vermont. So far, it’s really worked out well.

What do you think the key to your success is?

Normally you would say hard work. If you put all of your efforts in, then you would be successful. I think, to a certain extent, I’m very blessed to have natural talent. I know there are a lot of people out there on the track team that work hard at their events, but they never seem to go beyond the average person. They work hard at it and they are successful. I praise them for that. I have just been very lucky with the talent I’ve been granted.

Spiritually, I would say that God gave me a gift. He made me fast. I think that I put in a lot of effort myself, and a big part of it is that you have to love what you do to excel at it. But sure there are days when I hate running; there are days when I love running. It’s a love-hate relationship. But I think that it takes a lot of mental preparation, a lot of mental sacrifice, to do a sport. And a lot of time.

What goes through your head when you are running?

Well, it used to be: Hang in there. After a lot of experience, it’s that you got to stay relaxed, try to keep your shoulders relaxed and try to stay efficient. When you start locking up all your muscles, then you start locking up your body, and you’re going to get tired more quickly. … It’s a much more mature step, going from “I’m just trying to survive here’ to “I can kick this guy’s butt.’

Are there any lessons you’ve learned in track that will help you later in life?

One of the reasons why I continued doing track is because you meet so many people on the team. They’re the first group of people I met here at school, because I came here early to run.

When you join a team like this, then you come out with a lot of friends, you establish yourself, you learn how to work with the team … and it’s special.

I learned that if you work hard at something, you become successful in your own way. For me, I’ve accomplished a lot of things. And to be the co-captain of the team is quite an honor to lead a group of guys and girls that look up to you as a role model.

What do you have to do individually to do well at ECACs?

You have to be aware that you worked very hard to get to where you are at.

The ECAC standards are tough. You work at it. You definitely have a lot of practice time behind you and this is the time where you shine.

Manrique is a member of the class of 2012.

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