The morning of Saturday, Oct. 25, Morton College Cross Country’s very own Eric Diaz, Sierra Downey, Sara Sanchez and Patricio Echeverria ran the Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference-Region IV and qualified for the NJCAA Division I National race in Lubbock, Tex. Before our athletes head down to Texas, the Collegian was able to interview three of the four champions and ask them to reflect on their biggest influences and goals that have helped them come this far .
“Running at nationals is yet another race in which I can surpass my own limits,” said freshman Sara Sanchez. The disciplines of running had become second nature to her. Before the start of each race she oozes focus and determination as she gets ready to push her limits yet again.
Sanchez’s goals for nationals include “[setting] a new personal record and end the race with nothing but a feeling of accomplishment.” This is the outcome of a journey that spanned her high school career.
Though she aims to perform at her maximum every race, Sara recognizes that the ultimate thing she needs to do is soak up the experience.
“My mom always says to have fun while competing so I plan on making the most out of the run itself and the experience considering it will be a new setting and more specifically, weather!” said Sanchez.
Sanchez said that her mother, Juana Nieto, has been one of the most influential people in her running career.
“Even though she doesn’t understand my sole purpose for running and sometimes disagrees, I know in the end that she supports me 100 percent,” said Sanchez. “She’s taught me what it is to be disciplined and committed.” Sara challenges her mindset onto others stating, “I’m proud to illustrate hard work to others in our community and I’m proud to represent Morton College. ‘Imagine what you can do!’”
Running has set its roots deep within Sanchez as she hopes to find a career in sports medicine, athletic training, or even coaching! After nationals, we can look forward to having Sara on the team for another season!
For Eric Diaz it’s been a long season. It’s not easy coming back from an injury, let alone coming back from an injury and qualifying to Nationals.
“It seemed to me as if chances to qualify were slim. It was tough,” Diaz said. This resilient athlete has come back to the sport after taking a year off, giving him a total of eight years as a runner. Though running is considered an individual sport, Eric feels he shares this accomplishment with his teammates.
“Having great team mates to push me through workouts really helped,” Diaz said. “I am disappointed that we couldn’t qualify as a team because we had the potential. I feel like my team deserves to be there, but unfortunately things didn’t go as planned. Running nationals is a great accomplishment for me. This is the race to represent my school as well as my team.”
Diaz explained his goals for Nationals.
“Get a new personal record, of course, that is always a goal, but finishing the race is my main goal,” Diaz said. “My goal in terms of place is to run my best race; wherever place that is I will be happy. Regardless of the outcome, the experience is always great in a meet like this one.”
Eric’s career began with the help of his elementary and high school coach Fernando Reyes.
“[He is] the one who guided me throughout the years,” Diaz said. “To this day, he is the person I go to when I need advice regarding the sport. He has gained my respect. I believe I’m the runner I am today because of his support throughout the years.”
Eric also names Morton College Cross Country coach Gus Coronado as someone who has helped him come this far.
“He is always pushing his runners to run to their fullest potential, which I think is great. It’s a motivation to continue the sport,” Diaz said.
The Collegian wishes Diaz nothing but the best!
Sierra Downey’s country playlist always helps her prepare to dominate the course before a race.
“‘Kerosene’ by Miranda Lambert, ‘Last Dollar’ by Tim McGraw and ‘American Kids’ by Kenny Chesney, to name a few,” Downey said. “It gets me pumped up and helps me concentrate on my race and ignore outside factors.”
Downey has been running since sixth grade. To her, running at nationals means “every early morning workout was worth it. I put a lot of time and effort into running and it’s nice to be recognized for it.”
After not only qualifying for nationals but coming in first place in last Saturday’s race, Sierra isn’t holding anything back.
“I really want to get under 19 minutes for the race. It’s been a goal since the beginning of the season. It’s a flat course with fast girls so I think it’s possible,” Sierra said. She attributes her success to her mother and her high school coach.
“They both have believed in me and pushed me to be my best,” said Downey. “My mom shows up to every meet she can and stays interested in my athletic life. My coach, Taz, still checks up on me and encourages me although I already graduated.”
After giving her all in every race, Downey has proved herself to be a force of nature in the sport of running that just keeps coming back for more.
“I plan on continuing to run cross country and track at a four-year university,” Downey said. “After that, I will run marathons and half-marathons for my own personal enjoyment.” Nationals is far from the end for this phenomenal athlete!
Their Advice to Young Athletes:
“The only obstacle keeping you from personal success is yourself. Don’t doubt yourself and if you believe you can do something then you will because where there is a will there’s a way. ” – Sara Sanchez
“In this sport of cross country, there is no way to cheat. It’s all based on the effort that goes in to practice. Base training is very important. Build a great foundation, put in the hard workouts and stay mentally strong. It is up to a runner to determine where they want to get. Dedication is the key to success.” - Eric Diaz
“You will not see success overnight. You cannot expect improvement unless you are truly pushing yourself every day. It’s going to hurt some days, but you can’t let that stop you. If you stay in your comfort zone, you’ll never get better than what is comfortable. Stay tough, and never give up on your goals. And I say set your goals high. If you want it enough and are willing to put in the work, you can achieve anything.” – Sierra Downey