Logging hundreds of miles together, runners build a tight knit community throughout the year. It’s a community Lindsay High School graduate, Nancy Vasquez, is currently missing.
“We go through a lot of the same things and understand each other's struggles,” Vasquez said. “Since cross country is a mental sport, mainly because you don’t run all these miles for nothing. There’s always a reason and we need motivation so we motivate each other. Once you’re at your lowest point and they’re there for you, you get a deeper connection.”
COVID-19, and the resulting social distancing rules, put a stop to athletics and distanced Vasquez from her fellow Lindsay runners; but it didn’t dampen her willingness to train.
Working out with her brothers, one who runs for the College of the Sequoias and the other who runs for Lindsay, Vasquez continues to stay motivated in her training by remembering there’s always going to be someone coming for her spot.
“I always have a gut feeling someone’s right behind me,” she said. “Like no matter what, there’s always going to be someone right behind me wanting to take my spot, just waiting for me to stop. So that’s what I keep in mind. And that’s what pushes me.”
Vasquez’s mindset is a good one to have as she heads into the college arena. Last year, the Cardinals top female runner signed with, and received a partial scholarship from, California State University, Sonoma -- a NCAA Division II program. She will run cross country and track for the Seawolves.
“It was like a dream,” Vasquez said. “I was so far off when I started my running career. I was so far off. I was really slow, slow runner. This is all just a dream and it just happened. I’m really grateful for it. I knew I was going to keep trying no matter what but getting a scholarship for it was something different.”
As a freshman, Vasquez’s first 5,000-meter (5K) time was 33 minutes, 37.2 seconds at Fresno’s Woodward Park. Three years later and her time of 19:05 at a Lindsay-hosted East Sequoia League meet was the 38th-fastest 5K time in the Valley and the third fastest in the area.
LHS head coach, Joe Dixon, said Vasquez strength in running comes from her training and endurance.
“She was mentally strong and she could train more than the other kids,” Dixon said. “She’s above-average when it comes to someone who can just go out and train, then once she gets in the race, she’s one of those kind of endurance-based persons. She can hold her pace for a long time. She’s kind of a workaholic when it comes to training. …. Had to kind of hold her back a little bit (cause) she’d over train.”
A two-time CIF State qualifier in cross country, Vasquez finished top 20 in both her sophomore (20th place) and junior (12th place) years at the Central Section Division IV championships. She was aiming for no less than third-place at Valley, but a minor tear in her glutes ended her senior season in early October.
“I was really looking forward to it,” she said. “My competition, (who) I used to beat by like 40 seconds, got third place in Valley. I can’t imagine what I would’ve gotten.”
Two months of physical therapy and support from assistant coach John Caesar, and Vasquez was ready to go again. Caesar, whose daughters previously ran for Lindsay, not only helped Vasquez through her injury but also played a key role in helping her decide to run at Sonoma.
“The person who helped me like really commit and stay for it, was John Caesar,” Vasquez said. “John Caesar has done so much for me. And his family, we have pasta nights with them. He helped me heal when I had injuries and stuff like that. He gave me a lot of advice and mental preparedness for anything, any challenge, when it comes to running and life.”
Another thing Vasquez missed out on this past athletic season was track. Vasquez only competed in two track meets before COVID-19 shut things down, preventing her from improving her 1,600-meter time from 5:33.56 to 5:20 and her 3,200 from 11:59 to 11:22.
At Sonoma, Vasquez is going to study zoology and get her bachelor's degree in biology before moving on to the University of California, Davis, for a master’s degree from the veterinarian school. She plans to become a wildlife veterinarian.
Being able to attend a smaller university was important for Vasquez because she wanted to be able to get classes easily while also competing and contributing to her athletic teams.
“It’d be good for me cause I wouldn’t have to struggle on getting classes,” she said. “... Also, in regards to the track and field program, I’m hoping to get stronger, faster and be a smarter athlete because of the collegiate level.”
Along with improving her times and helping her team place higher, Vasquez said she wanted to help by spreading her “positive energy” to the Seawolves. It’s something the Cardinals will miss having themselves next year.
“It was just her positive attitude,” Dixon said “Smile on her face, loving life. Being a positive person like that is contagious. Laughing, enjoying herself. … She would kind of lower (everyone’s) nerves by laughing and cracking up and having jokes.”
As a Cardinal, Vasquez felt loved and supported. The graduate said it will be her teammates and coaches who she misses most from Lindsay.
“I’m going to miss the people the most,” Vasquez said. “I’ve had really great experiences with the people there. Like everybody is so loving and supportive. I’m going to miss their support and the bonds I had. That’s the main thing, the people.”