By Jim Berry

MIAMI GARDENS (CBSMiami) – The Miami Gardens Xpress track and field team practices four times a week, mainly at Miami Norland Middle School. There’s no actual track here, but you could call it a field of dreams. They are national champions for three years in a row.

One runner, Mekhi Gammons, set a new world record in the 13-year-old boys 400 meter race this year at the 2019 Amateur Athletic Union Nationals. It was a moment he’ll never forget.

“I knew I felt I was going fast but I didn’t know that I was going that fast so when I went through the line and I saw the time at 47 seconds, I was surprised,” Mekhi recalled.

Coach Darius Lawshea wasn’t as surprised, he’s been training Mekhi for nine years.

“He used to get his behind beat a lot in practice from 5, 6 to 7 years old, he was always at the top but couldn’t manage to get to that next level but he never gave up,” he said.

Coach D, as he’s called, has been running the team since 2008. He’s passionate about more than just records and trophies. His platform is “Training to Be Great” – be great in all things: physical sports, academics, chores. It has motivated Mekhi and the whole team to be their best.

“Team sports is important, it teaches social skills helps be an all-around person,” Coach D emphasized.

The Miami Gardens Xpress has produced some top runners who have competed internationally and in college, such as Tyrese Cooper and Jamal Walton.

The team features some fierce females too, like Chai’el Johnson. She gets her tough work ethic and genes from her dad, former NFL player Chad Johnson.

“I’ve been running since I was 8 years old and it’s been going great until now,” she said. “I’ve got a lot of competition, I’ve gotten stronger from my coaches mentality.”

Family is at the forefront here, with Mekhi’s father Alphonza Gammons as assistant coach and Coach D treating each kid as his own. The tough love and disciplined training produces results. Mekhi’s dad doesn’t miss a practice or a race, proudly recalling Mekhi’s world record moment.

“It was something special to see to physically see it for myself, knowing where he come from to where he’s at right now,” he said.

When he’s not running track, Mekhi plays football and hits the books. The high school freshman wants to pursue medicine, putting his best foot forward in all he does.

“I believe he’s going to be one of the greatest, he’s a straight a student, honor roll student part of the national honor society it’s amazing to coach a kid with such greatness all the way around,” said Coach D.

The team wrapped up this season with an impressive 16 gold, eight silver and two bronze medals at Junior Olympics. According to Coach D, practicing on grass hasn’t slowed them down.

“We don’t have a track, haven’t been blessed with a track and now I just love the grass – we train on the grass,” he said. “We really don’t have a place that we call home.”

In the meantime, as the saying goes, home is where your heart is.

“We’re so close and we’re so bonded that it’s like a family. We look out for each other, we make sure none of us goes the wrong way,” Mekhi said.

For Coach D, the team is everything.

“I love this family, I wouldn’t trade this MGX family for the world. This is my village,” he said.

Jim Berry