Student-Athlete Spotlight

Student-Athlete Spotlight: Sunnyside’s Determined Cross Country Runner Antonio Espinoza

AllSportsTucson.com is running a series of brief stories about Southern Arizona high school senior student-athletes entering this school year. The series, first-person accounts from the student-athletes, continues with a profile on Sunnyside cross country runner Antonio Espinoza.

Antonio Espinoza

School: Sunnyside

Honors/Background: Listed on AllSportsTucson.com preseason watch list for 2020 boys high school cross country season.

I’m Antonio Espinoza and I am currently a senior at Sunnyside High School.

I started track freshman year because a friend of mine convinced me to try out with him. Little did I know that running was going to impact my life so greatly, not only helping me break me out of my shell, but I gained very good friends, and a true passion for running.

The following year, I joined cross country where I truly learned what it meant to have a drive and mental strength which helped contribute to improve my work ethic and my times.

The most significant moment for me in cross country was racing at Mount Sac in California. This course was almost all incline. To say the least, I was intimidated by this challenging course.

Out if curiosity’s sake, I had asked my coach (Marco Rodriguez) why he loved running so much and this moment has stuck with me ever since. He said: “Running is exactly like life, you have your flat easy parts of a course and downhills that you can catch your breath and push forward, but sooner or later, you will come across an incline. These inclines can be very tough and the lactic acid will set in your legs and you will be in pain. It is up to you to either push through the pain and make it to the top of the incline or stop and your race ends there.”

Antonio Espinoza (Espinoza photo)

This was so meaningful to me because I realized what running was. Ever since then, when a hard time has come around, I remember what my coach said to me and I would be foolish to let this incline get the best of me.

I worked hard that year and that track season. I came back stronger, not just physically but mentally. I found a new mental strength I never thought I had.

Junior year rolled around and the season went well for the most part. Unfortunately, problems arose with school and I lost my baby cousin and my Nana within a three-month span. I started to burn out with running distance and wanted to go back to the 800-meter run for track and field and I did not want to run the 5K race again.

Time passed and preseason began for track and field. I began to workout in the morning at practice and after practice to focus on hip mobility and turnover speed. While I was working dedicated to making it to state, COVID-19 began to infest the United States and fears grew that our season was going to be canceled due to this pandemic. I was very scared because I feared all of my training was going to be wasted due to a cancellation of my season.

Oddly enough, rather than putting me in a rut, I realized this was a difficult time that I was going through and it was up to me to get over that incline. So instead of fearing a lost season, I looked forward to the cross country season. I got a chance to get a head start on the season, and now I am practicing with my team with a hunger for state.

My biggest hope for the 2020-21 school year is that we get this pandemic under control. This virus heavily impacted our sports when it all came to a halt this spring. It was hard because we didn’t know our first invitation was going to be our last.

At first, it was very difficult to come back and practice with the new social distancing guidelines we have to follow, but we are getting used to it. Overall I am incredibly grateful that we can practice and run a season this year, though I really hope that we can go back to a normal life, normal practices and normal races for this upcoming 2021 track and field season.

What is great about our team this year is the bond we have. As a senior, I get the opportunity to help grow the morale, drive and the spirit of our team. I want to leave the team on a good note and for my teammates to carry on with cross country to race as a team, but more importantly, grow as one.

My plans after high school are to go to the University of Arizona and hopefully run with the team there while getting my degree in the field of Bio-science.

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