Born to run: An exchange student from Spain qualifies for cross country state championships
When Lucía Duarte first arrived in the United States as an exchange student from Spain, she had no idea what cross country was.
"I never heard of cross country before," she said.
Now, Duarte, who is a junior at Weed High School, will be competing as a qualifier at the 2021 CIF State Cross Country Championships on Saturday at Woodward Park in Fresno.
"I'm excited," she said. "I'm just going to enjoy this journey."
A first for Weed High School
Duarte was the fifth and final girl in Division 5/6 to qualify for state at the Northern Section Cross Country Championships Nov. 10 at West Valley High School in Cottonwood. She finished with a time of 21:59.14, edging out Marisa Doers of Central Valley for the final state berth in the division. Doers finished with a time of 22:00.97. Duarte placed 21st overall out of 97 runners.
Weed High School Cross Country coach Eva Mitchell said Duarte is the first girl from WHS to qualify for state in cross country.
"I'm super excited for her," Mitchell said. "She's worked really hard, and she never complains."
Duarte will be joined in Fresno by teammate Ryan Mitchell, who is heading to his third state meet. They have been training for state with Mount Shasta High School runners Sylvia Carpenter and Drew Hering, who also qualified. Several other Siskiyou County runners will join them, including the boys' team at Yreka High School and Etna High School juniors Jenna Justice and Elisabeth Yokel.
Runner with a smile on face
What impresses Mitchell about Duarte is how well she listens to instruction and takes advice from coaches and teammates on ways to improve her running.
Cross country can be an intense and focused sport, with many runners having stoic and serious expressions as they compete.
That is not the case with Duarte, Mitchell said with a chuckle. Lucía, she said, almost always has a smile on her face during a race and is known to wave at people she knows as she passes by.
Mitchell said she is a kind and friendly teen and a social butterfly at meets, chatting up runners from the other teams.
"Wherever she goes, she makes friends," Mitchell said.
Duarte said some people are surprised she usually smiles during a race or waves at people.
"For me, it's fun," She said. "I like the feeling of running. I like the wind in my hair. I feel free, I guess."
'I didn't want to go straight home'
When Duarte first arrived at Weed High School in August, she knew she wanted to be active and to know her community and classmates better. She thought sports was an excellent way to achieve this.
"I knew I didn't want to go straight home after school," Duarte said. "I wanted to do more so I could experience and enjoy the day more fully."
Duarte considered volleyball and cross country for fall sports, and decided that it might be fun to run, so she decided to try out cross country. And the cross country team has been supportive.
"They all have been so helpful. It's a great group of people," she said.
The competition at state
When Duarte joined the team, Mitchell said she did not imagine the season would end with her competing at state.
What's she's done is not easy to do," Mitchell said.
After all, Duarte had never even tried the sport before. But as the weeks went by and she steadily improved, Mitchell realized Duarte had the talent and discipline needed to succeed in cross country,
At the Shasta Cascade League Championships on Nov. 3 at West Valley, Duarte did not have her best race as she dealt with a calf injury. She said she was a bit down about it but worked hard to get better and have a good showing at sections.
At state, Duarte said the goal is just to go out, take in the experience and see if she can hit a personal record.
From Spain to Siskiyou County
Duarte is from Zaragoza, a city smack dab in the middle of Spain's largest cities — Madrid about 200 miles to the west and Barcelona about 193 miles to the east. The city has a population of nearly 667,000.
While Weed and Siskiyou County is, of course, much smaller, Duarte spoke of the positive experience she has had She said her classmates and teachers have been kind and welcoming.
"It's been great," she said. "I have enjoyed the community and all the school spirit at Weed. I've made lots of friends.
Once cross country is done, Duarte plans to try her hand at basketball with the Cougars and run once more in spring on the track and field team.
Bill Choy covers sports and general news for the Siskiyou Daily News/Mount Shasta Herald/USA Today Network. Follow him on Twitter at@SDNBillChoy. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org. Support local journalism by subscribing today.