La Oferta

December 5, 2023

Valedictorian runner

Editor’s note: The annual Mosaic Journalism Workshop for Bay Area high school students is a two-week intensive course in journalism. Based at San Jose State University’s Spartan Daily newsroom, Mosaic students report and photograph real stories under the guidance of professional journalists.

By Emilio Gonzalez-Lu

Mosaic Journalism Workshop

Arlet Miranda Torres, James Lick High School valedictorian and all star cross country runner positions herself to begin training at the William Sheppard middle school track, in San Jose, California, on Thursday, Monday, June 17, 2019. (Ruth A. Rodriguez/Mosaic Staff Photographer).

Arlet Miranda Torres and one of her running teammates came up with a cheer to motivate each other during their races.

“Pain is temporary, pride is forever.”

That motto would come to define Torres a first-generation American student, who lives with her mother and two brothers. Her father was deported when she was 8 years old, and for a majority of her life she was raised by a single parent. She also looks after her younger brother who has behavioral problems.

Dealing with the challenges in her family is difficult work, so running has been her outlet for stress since the fourth grade, running for both cross country and track over the years. This outlet also proved effective in high school whenever keeping up with her intense amount of schoolwork was difficult. Working hard on being a good student is a challenge and having that release kept her head clear.

Her identity as a runner wasn’t limited to the track. She also helped her mother pick up and make deliveries for Doordash to pay the bills.

But being an avid runner since a young age proved to be a double-edged sword. She came blazing into her freshman year at James Lick High School with a 6-minute, 17-second mile time, but then she injured one of her quadricep muscles.

Sophomore year, she came running back, only to get tendinitis in one of her legs.

Still, she pulled through, staying on top of her competition. She made it to the Central Coast Section (CCS) Finals, the race that would determine if she could compete in the state championships, but finished just one place outside of qualifying.

However, she never let situations like these keep her down.

“For me, it’s not about winning. For me, it’s all about times and improving,” she said. “I’d rather get third place and a faster time instead of first place and a slower time.”

In her junior year during her cross-country season, she inexplicably slowed down. Suddenly, she couldn’t run as much as she used to and fell behind. That was when Torres discovered that she had iron-deficiency anemia, which seriously decreased her stamina.

James Lick High School valedictorian and track start Arlet Miranda Torres wears her medals for a portrait near the William Sheppard middle school track, in San Jose, California, on Thursday, Monday, June 17, 2019. (Ruth A. Rodriguez/Mosa\ic Staff Photographer).

“It got to a point where I wanted to stop running,” Torres said.

Torres also faced difficulties in class. The anemia, which left her lightheaded, made it hard for her to focus. However, with work, Arlet was able to maintain high grades.

Even during this crisis, she never stayed away from her responsibilities of being a co-captain to her teammates.

But she said doubts started to cloud her mind: “Do they care?” she used to wonder. Her coach and her teammates encouraged her, but being slower put her through the wringer mentally.

“I know it’s not being a nobody, but that’s how it felt,” she said. “I know it’s a cliche, but you never know what you have until it’s gone.”

Falling behind gave her a new perspective. She doubled down on her philosophy of constant improvement after that year.

She powered through her senior year, coming back as one of the fastest runners at James Lick. She became team captain for both her cross-country and track teams. She made it to CCS finals, but once again was one place away from getting into the state competition.

And not only did she regain her old speed, as a senior she posted a peak mile time of 5 minutes, 38 seconds, shaving more than 30 seconds off her top freshman-year performance.

After all her hard work in track and cross-country, Torres came out of high school with a total of 37 medals, 34 of which came from sports.

But her favorite medal is number 37, which she received for being named valedictorian of her graduating class. Torres now has a full-ride scholarship to UC Berkeley, where she plans to major in computer science.

Torres said she’ll keep running in college, whether for the university or a club team. She routinely brings to mind some encouraging words her coach told her as she fought through adversity.

“You have to finish your race with a smile, no matter what the outcome.”

Thanks for sharing this story with La Oferta readers: Mosaic Journalism Workshop, a student project of the Dow Jones News Fund, Bay Area News Group, CCNMA: Latino Journalists of California, and San Jose State University.