A leader in a city like Tucson not only motivates a team but also inspires a community.
Pima freshman cross country runner Yaxiri Ortiz defines what being a leader like that is all about.
Last weekend, Ortiz was the meet coordinator for the annual Los Mezquites Cross Country High School Invitational organized her alma mater, Sunnyside, with the running at Kennedy Park.
Hand picked by her former coach, Marco Rodriguez, to handle such a task, Ortiz was ready the moment she was asked,
“That is a meet that I ran in when I started cross country in my senior year. I had helped out a couple of times with track, especially last season when I was a graduated student,” Ortiz said. “A lot goes into a meet like that, things like printing, awards, planning what schools are coming and just kind of organizing who’s gonna get there.”
Ortiz not only took time in coordinating the meet, she and her Pima team volunteered to run the track meet along with Sunnyside coaches and staff.
“When they (her Pima teammates) got there, I sort of directed them on things to do,” Ortiz said. “My high school coach told me, ‘You’re gonna be speaking on the microphone handing out awards, setting up the award table, just kind of little things.'”
Meet coordinating is not the only form of volunteering that Ortiz enjoys.
Since 2013, she has participated in the Tucson Festival of Books and has fed the homeless during the holidays since 2019.
She also still helps out at her alma mater, leading clubs like Existimos, a club for undocumented students at Sunnyside.
They meet once a week for emotional support as well as planning out their collegiate future.
Ortiz also still helps out with the Youth Advisory Council, a club that discusses ongoing issues at Sunnyside and works with the school’s superintendent to fix them.
Ortiz is new to the Aztecs this year but has already made an impact with her coaches and peers.
It is her athleticism and her service to the community that earned her the Chapman Automotive Aztecs Student-Athlete of the Week Award for Sept. 13-19, an honor that she did not take for granted.
“It means a lot (being awarded), I’m new to this team and I came in not really knowing anyone,” she said. “But it was so easy to make friends with this team and become really close with my coaches. To win this award, it just makes me feel so welcome and comfortable … It’s a pay off for what I put in.”
Ortiz began her cross country career as a sophomore at Sunnyside, originally as a sprinter for the track & field team.
After trying out the 200-meter race event, her coach suggested trying long distance races. After running mostly the 800 and 800 relay and the 400 and 400 relay, she decided that long-distance running was the sport for her.
“I started cross country in my senior year of high school. In my first race, I ran 30 minutes and basically didn’t know what I was doing,” she said. “Then, every single race I would drop by one minute up until the last one, which was regionals, where I ran a 23-minute (time) and got All-American that year.
“And then I worked really hard over the summer before college and dropped all the way down to a 19.32-minute PR (personal record). That’s my goal this season, is to surpass that time.”
Ortiz credits her success to Rodriguez and assistant Rafael Diaz for creating a family atmosphere and always being there for the runners on or off the course.
Rodriguez had one classic saying that Ortiz says has stuck with her.
“No, ‘Should’ve-could’ve-would’ve!’ That was his motto,” she said. “After every race you never wanna think, ‘Oh! I should’ve done this, or I could’ve done this, or if I was feeling better I would’ve done this.’ You just do it because later on, you regret so much if you don’t try your best. That’s always stuck with me in every aspect, especially in the classroom.”
Ortiz feels just as comfortable at Pima as she did at Sunnyside. Despite still being new to the Aztecs, she feels that her teammates will become some of her best friends.
Even though she is still a freshman, Ortiz plans ahead for the future. She wants to continue running when her days at Pima are done but is also open to just continuing her academic career.
“I feel like we always all wanna continue on later,” she said. “So if I can get a good offer, something that I can rely on for the next couple of years, then for sure I’ll go run anywhere. It’s the same if I don’t get an athletic scholarship but get a good academic scholarship, then I’ll do that as well. I’m very open to different possibilities.”
Pima’s next major meet will take place Oct. 1 in the ACCAC Championships in Glendale. Ortiz knows that it is going to be a challenge for her and her team, but she is confident of the Aztecs’ chances.
“These last couple of races have been tough for us because we haven’t had our whole team healthy, but we’re coming back,” she said. “Coach (Mark) Bennett has mentioned weapons on the team that we are gonna pull out. So I’m confident that we’re gonna do really well and hopefully win. We just have to keep our eyes set on that winning possibility.”
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Nathaniel Martinez is an aspiring sports journalist who is a Sahuaro High School graduate and Pima Community College student. He has written for the Aztec Press at Pima. While at Sahuaro, he played football for longtime coach Scott McKee and he wrestled.