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Orta traveling long distances on, off the track

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Luis Orta became the first runner since 2006 to win the 3,000m and 5,000m at SEC Indoors this weekend. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Luis Orta became the first runner since 2006 to win the 3,000m and 5,000m at SEC Indoors this weekend. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Luis Orta had to run a great distance at the SEC Indoor Track and Field Championship this past weekend. There, Orta became the first SEC athlete to win both the 3,000m and 5,000m in the same championship in five years.

While this feat was impressive, Orta has had to travel long distances ever since he decided to leave his native country of Venezuela for UK. The distance may have been long for Orta, but the finish line for this accomplished runner has been oh so sweet.

"It has been great," Orta said. "I'm from a big city in Venezuela and it's one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Being here I've been 100 percent focused and because of that, Lexington has been perfect."   

Orta's focus has paid off, culminating in this past weekend's victory on the same track that he has called home for the past four years.

Even before his triumph early in the 2012 track season, Orta was a steady performer. In 2009, Orta was named All-SEC second team in cross country, All-SEC outdoor second team for the 2,000m Steeplechase. In 2010 he won the San Francisco Invitational with a time of 24:25.

In spite of all he has accomplished, Orta is still driven to improve.

"I feel accomplished and I feel like all the work that I've put in since I came to UK has finally paid off," Orta said, "I feel very proud and I'm eager to do more and become better now."

In addition to his success in the SEC Indoor Track and Field Championship, Orta has added another path in his journey to travel down: self-improvement outside of competition.

"Running wise, my times have been going down," Orta said, "But, more importantly I've learned how to train myself throughout the day, eating right, sleeping right and doing the things that I have to do in order to have a good day at practice and have a good race. All of these things are important, just as much as the stuff we do on the track."

With a good night's rest and healthy eating habits, Orta has been able to improve his performance to the point where there has been a noticeable change in his times.  Orta's actions have helped to improve himself, but his determination, focus and hard work have been used to help the lives of others as well.
Along with teammate and middle distance runner, Josh Nadzam, Orta is in his second year leading a shoe drive for an organization called Soles4Souls.  Last year alone, they collected about 2,000 pairs of shoes.

"Everything began last year when I would run by myself during the summer and I threw my shoes in the trash because they were done. Us runners, we use shoes and they last like two months for each pair of shoes," Orta said. "I realized, 'Wow, there are people out there who need shoes. Maybe we can do something about it.' So, I talked to my roommate, Josh Nazdam, and he is very involved with the community. He thought it was a great idea and so far we have about 200 pairs of shoes."

With a head start in the race for charity, Orta and Nadzam have a few more finish lines to cross before the end of this season.

"The shoe drive will be until the end of the year, so we are going to focus on that the entire year," Orta said. "With outdoor season coming up, I want to, again, win the SECs; I'm already focused on the 5K. After, I want to try to run 10Ks, maybe go and run a half marathon and break national records for them. For me it's just as important to run for UK as it is to run for Venezuela."

Participating in a sport that is not only based off individual performances, but also the team's overall effort, all of this together will help Orta and the Cats push across the finish line.

"We have a very young team and that means we have a good future," Orta said. "I feel like everyone wants to perform well, so I think we are going to be even better during our outdoor season."

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