Dalton Hengst is a junior at McDonogh who has grown into one of the top distance runners in Maryland.
He runs in numerous regional and national competitions all over the U.S., but now Hengst will take his talents to Cuba.
Hengst was recently selected to be part of Team National Scholastic Athletics Foundation, a group of 28 track-and-field athletes (14 boys and 14 girls) who will compete in the Caribbean Scholastic Invitational in Havana May 26-28. Long-time McDonogh coach Jeff Sanborn will also make the trip.
For Hengst, this is another honor he can add to a rapidly-growing resume. He's won Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association championships in cross country as well as indoor and outdoor track. In fact, he is the two-time defending MIAA cross country champion and pulled off the difficult hat trick of winning the 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meters at the indoor title meet this past winter.
The junior also won his division of the mile (4:09.99) at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia a few weeks ago and has run in places such as San Diego, Los Angeles, New York and at Yale in New Haven, Conn., with more trips likely coming up.
This one, though, will be something new and different.
"The Caribbean meet has a rich history," Hengst said. "There's a lot of fast runners. It's a great honor to go over and compete. Getting out of the country and competing against faces that I've never seen before will be [fun]."
Team NSAF announced it will leave for Havana May 24 and return five days later. Hengst is slated to run in the 1,500 meters May 26 and possibly the 5K two days later. He said that decision is going to come closer to the meet. Eric Allen Jr. (Bullis School, Montgomery County) was also selected.
Hengst has been a force among distance runners since beginning his McDonogh career and loves to run against the top athletes -- wherever they are. He sees this as another challenge in that area.
"I want to go the furthest I can with the sport and competing internationally a lot is [great]," Hengst said. "Just having that experience now and seeing how I'm going to be treated … is going to be huge for me. I'm just kind of gaining more experience than from any other meet I've ever run in."
Hengst will also gain the chance to learn about something few Americans have seen since the early 1960s -- life in Cuba.
He said NSAF has told the teams they'll be traveling together, and that should limit safety concerns. Hengst said Team NSAF began receiving nuggets of information starting in late April that will give them a look at what life in Havana will look like.
The American athletes were informed their cellphones will not work at all in Cuba. And, if they are interested in WiFi, the cost is $10 per hour.
"I'm not nervous going there," Hengst said. "The most exciting thing, for me, is that I don't know what to expect."
Sanborn has a better idea of what might be coming. He's a government and global issues teacher at McDonogh and this trip certainly has piqued his interest.
"Upon first receiving the invitation to Cuba for Dalton, my first reaction was incredible -- and good for Dalton," Sanborn said. "My second reaction was: I need to go to see a part of the world that is so close but, in many ways, so far away."
Sanborn said Hengst running and getting a chance to compete in international competition are the main reasons they're headed to Cuba, but there can be so much more to gain from this trip.
"Dalton [could] race twice while we are there … but visiting and getting a close look -- a very close look -- and feel of Cuba runs a close second," Sanborn said. "Cuba is an incredible opportunity."
Hengst also wants to get a feel for the Cuban lifestyle. It's doubtful he will return with a box of cigars, but Hengst said he is going to do his best to communicate in Spanish while also sampling the food and getting a look at the culture.
He will have a chance to run in a highly competitive meet, but this time, for this trip, there is more than athletic competition on his plate.
"I'm sure they have a different lifestyle there," Hengst said. "It will be interesting to see their food over there. Hopefully, I'll have a chance to sit down and talk with them and see what they do."
Issue 233: May 2017