When Aldo Pando-Girard first stepped onto a track in eighth grade he admits “I wasn’t really that great.” But by the time he crossed the finish line as a senior on the Pioneer cross country team he was much faster than great.
Pando-Girard had his best race of the year at the right time of year as he finished 20th in 15:59.1 at the Division 1 cross country state finals. After teammate Nick Foster, who finished first overall, Pando-Girard was the next Pioneer to cross the finish line and helped the team take first place overall at the November race at Michigan International Speedway.
“We knew Romeo and Plymouth had really good regionals so that was on our minds,” Pando-Girard said. “But we were undefeated and pretty confident. It would come down to that one race on that one day but we were really excited that whole week leading up to it.”
Most teams set goals at the beginning of the season. Back in August, the Pioneers had only one goal they were chasing – state champion.
“It (winning the state finals) has kind of been on our mind since Nick and that class were freshman,” Pando-Girard said. “We felt like when they were juniors and my class were seniors that we would have a really talented team. It’s been on the radar for a while. So this summer we worked really hard because we knew we had a shot at it.”
The Pioneers practiced every day except for Sundays as a team over the summer. They blew away the competition during the season, especially at the Lake Erie Regionals where they completely dominated the field and cruised to a first-place finish.
All the hard work paid off on a rainy, miserable day at MIS when the team finished with 107 points, only three better than second-place Plymouth.
As a sophomore, Pando-Girard began the season as the varsity team’s seventh man but quickly moved up after only a few races to where he was landing third on a consistent basis for the Pioneers.
The Pioneers qualified for the state meet last season, Pando-Girard’s junior year.
“I was second man most of the year but had a really bad performance at states,” he said. “But the team was fifth overall so that was really good.” When he stepped to the starting line at this year’s state finals, he wasn’t dwelling or thinking about his bad showing last year. Instead, he learned from it and used it as motivation.
“I tried to put that out of my head and instead focus on the good races I had this year and use that for confidence,” he said. “I died at the third mile last year so I learned from that and knew how to overcome that this time.” Pando-Girard was a late starter in cross country.
“I didn’t start running until eighth-grade track,” he said. “I just tried out and joined the team to see what it was like. I really fell in love with running even though I wasn’t that great. I liked how it pushed me and I liked that it was just you and the other guys and the course.”
Eventually, Pando-Girard started getting better. It’s called perseverance and dedication and he approached it the same way as he does his studies – with his foot on the gas.
“I started seeing a lot of improvement the winter after my first year on the high school cross country team,” he said. “Through the winter and into the spring track season I ended up running with the faster group and that really pushed me.”
While Pando-Girard can clearly run, he also can sing. While the two usually don’t mix, it’s been a winning combination for the Pioneer senior.
“When I was in fourth grade, the boys’ choir of Ann Arbor came to visit my elementary school and I was very intrigued so I joined up with them,” he said. “I later joined the middle school choir.”
Pando-Girard, who started taking private voice lessons when he was 14, joined the A Cappella Choir at Pioneer. He’s also a member of the Michigan Youth Chamber Singers and for an acapella group called the Pioneers.
Pando-Girard, who has a 4.0 grade-point average, is still applying to engineering schools but hopes to land in his hometown.
“Michigan has a really good engineering program and a voice program so hopefully that’s where I end up,” he said. “I feel confident I can get in there.”