Acasio Pinheiro of Princeton hopes his running will take him all the way to the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016.
And the 11-year-old from Princeton is well on his way, earning the title of 2012 Cross Country Amateur Athletic Union Jr. Olympic Nation All American Champion in Rock Hill, S.C., on Saturday.
Racing against more than 200 runners ages 11-12, Acasio’s time for the 3k was 9:54, topping his personal best time of 10:14.
It was a sweet victory for Acasio, who placed second in last year’s nationals and was determined to take home the top prize this year.
“I really wanted to win,” Acasio said. “I was thinking that I had to try my best and I was hoping that the hard work that I did all year round was going to pay off.”
Acasio’s win was hardly a surprise to his mother, Abigail Pinheiro. She said her son not only has his running technique down, but can also adjust his speed to "go as fast as whoever is in front of him."
Acasio took up running when he was six and now he runs five days a week, alternating between long runs (about 4-5 miles a day) and sprint runs.
“I really like running because I go into a zone and it makes me feel really open and free,” he said. “Next I’m going to the track AAU finals qualifications and finals for track and field in Florida. My goal is to make it to the Olympics in four years.”
Acasio is following in the footsteps of his father, Angelo Pinheiro, who also ran cross-country and made it to the Junior Olympics. Angelo Pinheiro now trains his son.
“My husband has gotten him to this level, now we need the best trainer to take him all the way (to the Olympics),” Abigail Pinheiro said. “If that’s what Acasio wants to do, we’ll take him as far as we can to get him there.”
Acasio and his father are hardly the only runners in the family. Acasio’s older brother Antonio, 15, runs for Peddie School, Angela, 13, runs for Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, and Alejandro, 5, is just starting to run.
Acasio used to attend Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart, but this year his mother chose to homeschool him.
“Acasio, he’s different, he’s always on-the-go and hyper,” she said, noting that homeschooling has helped control her son’s energy and his sometimes lack of focus. Abigail Pinheiro said she organizes her son’s day to allow for running throughout the day, including training with The Wilberforce School’s cross-country team three days a week during the season.
“Running helps control and focus him,” Abigail Pinheiro said. "He gets to run and clear his mind.”
Acasio was determined to focus on his running this year and so far it’s paying off. He qualified for last weekend’s national championship race by coming in first during a state USATF race and placing first in a series of runs in Holmdel Park during the fall.