By Miranda Sorensen
Photos by Kurt Johnson & Miranda Sorensen
Watch Jaiden Melendrez in the halls of Desert Hills High School and you will observe a humble, fun-loving, compassionate senior who has been an influence for good in the lives of many students.
But watch closely as he speeds past you on the cross country course and you will see a combination of talent, hard work and passion, a superior athlete, to say the least.
Everyday students might feel intimidated by his talent, but anyone who knows Jaiden feels at ease in his presence. Jaiden works hard, not only at increasing his running pace but also at leaving behind a legacy of humility and kindness.
In the sixth grade, Jaiden was convinced by his cousin to join his cross country team. Since then, his time has greatly improved from a 12-minute two-mile to running three miles in just 14:13.
“Hard work beats talent” is one of Jaiden’s life sayings, but he doesn’t just say it, he actually lives it. Each morning he wakes up at 6:30 in order to run a few miles before school. This is in addition to after-school practice.
Jaiden’s younger brother, Andre, also runs on the Thunder cross country team, and they enjoy each other’s company during practice. Jaiden said that in his spare time, he, his brother and their cousins also go to their local community center and play basketball together.
“I love spending time with my family,” Jaiden said, and some of their favorite things to do together are camping, hiking and watching movies. Among Jaiden’s hobbies are baseball and basketball, and he is also an excellent student. He enjoys language arts and has a GPA of 3.5.
When his teammates were asked about Jaiden, an answer they all had in common was how kind he is to everyone.
“Even outside of cross country, I see him talking to people on the team who are not as fast,” said teammate Ethan Ashby, “and I find it really cool that one of the top runners in the nation still finds time to be friends with the people who are not as fast.”
On Oct. 11, Jaiden took first place at the 2016 Region 9 cross country championships and a week later, he claimed the 3A individual state champion, with a 3-mile time of 15:27. Each year of high school, Jaiden has achieved phenomenal results.
In 2013, he was the individual state champion and his team won state in Tuba City, Arizona. Then in 2014, he took second place in Utah’s 3A cross country championships, as he still holds the Utah 3A sophomore record with a three-mile time of 15:44. In 2015, he placed third overall in Class 3A, helping his team win its third straight state championship.
But the humble senior comes out on top in more than cross country running.
“Having an impact on other people’s lives is my ultimate achievement,” Jaiden said.
“He is just such a happy person and so much fun, and everyone really loves him for that. I’ve noticed that around school he talks to everybody. He’s not just reserved to that one group of friends,” Cassie said. “He makes friends with everyone and makes sure they feel welcome in the school so that no one feels lonely and left out.”
At the beginning of his sophomore year, Jaiden moved from Arizona to St. George and began attending Desert Hills High. He thanks the cross country team for befriending him and making that adjustment easy on him.
“My team has a great ability to work hard but at the same time just have fun with it,” Jaiden said.
He uses his talent to help inspire and lift others on his team and doesn’t look down on any team members because he is faster.
“He has always been very supportive of us as a team. He tries to unify us together,” teammate Matt Allred said. “Especially with the varsity team, he’s really pushing us to work together and push each other. Him being the top varsity guy makes that really helpful. He always seems to have a good attitude and he works really hard every day at practice. He doesn’t ever let little things hold him back from working as hard as he can at practice, and he always gives his all.”
“Jaiden is a very special young man,” cross country coach Logan Fielding said. “You don’t get too many runners like him during a coaching career. He works very hard and is a great example to his teammates and is all about team first. He has helped make our cross country and track programs go to a whole other level since he moved here three years ago.
“He has dealt with a fair amount of adversity (such as moving to a new environment) since he has been at Desert Hills, but he hasn’t complained once. Jaiden has fought through it and come out much stronger. He has definitely left quite an impression on Desert Hills cross country and track. He has made me a better coach and person. It truly is an honor to know and associate with Jaiden.”
After graduating from high school, Jaiden plans to attend college for a year and then serve a two-year mission for his church. After that, he plans to go back to college and finish with a degree. Jaiden believes that anything can be accomplished if you set your mind to it and work hard.
As he leaves high school, he hopes to leave behind a legacy of hard work and determination for all those who have known him.
Desert Hills High junior Miranda Sorensen wrote this story as part of the Preps Utah student journalism program, powered by Bank of American Fork, which will award two of our published student journalists college scholarships at the end of the school year. Miranda enjoys ballroom dancing as well as writing. Thanks to her mom’s example and support, Miranda feels she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to. One of her many goals is to become a novelist.