By Janee Law
Don’t let her size fool you. She may look small, but she is strong. When 17-year-old Daniela LoCastro starts a race, her muscles are defined with each stride, revealing her quadriceps and sculpted arms.
“The school security guards just call her machine because she’s running around the school so often,” said Sal LoCastro, 52, Daniela’s father.
When running cross country, winter and spring track at Cold Spring Harbor High School, the senior wears dri-fit attire, Asics running shoes, and a pink watch, with her curly dark hair tied back into a low ponytail.
On Oct. 31, Having been crowned county cross-country champion in 2013 and 2014, Daniela attended the 2015 Nassau County Championship on Oct. 31, located at Bethpage State Park, ready for a three-peat.
“It was nice to just cap off cross country and win counties for the third year in a row,” said Daniela, who joined cross country in her sophomore year.
“Daniela's race at the county championship was fantastic,” said Nicholas Aurigemma, head coach for the Cold Spring Harbor cross country, winter and spring track teams. “She had a good plan on how we wanted the race to play out and she executed it perfectly.”
Daniela won the 5k in 18:22, more than a minute ahead of the second-place runner.
“Entering into the meet, we were extremely confident in her training and race results for the season,” Aurigemma said. “We focused more on the performance than the title going into the race, so I was extremely proud to watch her execute it perfectly.”
Joining the eighth-grade track team at 13 years old, Daniela understood the importance of nutrition, rest and cross training early in her running career, Aurigemma said.
“I just wanted to do a sport and I really liked it, I just liked moving around and it was really fun,” Daniela said. In her freshman year of high school, she joined winter and spring track, competing in the 1,500-meter and the 3k.
“My coach was like, cross country is going to be your thing. So he convinced me to go out for it and I loved that, and I always just stuck with running from then on,” she said, admitting that, along with her dad, she was nervous about joining cross country because of the amount of running.
“She runs for the right reasons, she loves it, she loves seeing how she can develop and how hard she can push herself,” said LoCastro, noting that Daniela has built up her strength in the past six months.
“Before she drove, I would take her to Caumsett State Park to go on a run [and] she’ll come back from a seven-mile run like it was nothing, not out of breath, just checking her watch,” LoCastro said. “Her anaerobic capacity has been through the roof.”
To maintain a solid run, Daniela said she controls her breathing and tries to keep a fluid motion, to avoid the possibility of feeling labored. With a combination of speed, endurance and strength, Daniela practices for two hours, six days out of the week, including two 45-minute days dedicated to strength training.
Since she first started running, Daniela said her mileage gradually began to increase throughout the years, now running 45-50 miles a week.
“My coach has been really great as far as he’s slowly bumping me up,” Daniela said, adding that he makes sure she is healthy by planning the day based on how she feels.
After winning counties, Daniela competed at the state championships at Monroe-Woodbury High School in upstate Central Valley on Nov. 1, completed the course in 19:39 and finishing 19th.
“It was a very tough course,” she said. “I did not do as well at states as I wanted to unfortunately, but this season was a big season for me.”
Although unsure where she is going to to attend college next fall, Daniela said she is excited to compete at a collegiate level and join other athletes who share a similar passion for running.
“She is the most devoted runner I have ever coached in my 17 years,” Aurigemma said. “It is the most amazing transformation I have ever seen of a runner and only accomplished because of her crazy devotion and drive to run faster.”
Living with her dad and 16-year-old sister, Alexa, in Laurel Hollow, Daniela said that her self-motivation stems from her being raised on the basis of self-reliance.
“[She’s] become a weapon with the sole mission of running longer, harder and faster,” LoCastro said. “The lessons that she’s learned are going to carry over into anything else she wants to do. She’s just that focused and determined to succeed.”