Four years ago Juarez-Lincoln cross country runner Emily Perez was like any other freshman athlete. Before cross country meets she was nervous, unsure, intimidated and all, apparently, completely without reason. Last weekend, at the UIL state cross country meet at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock, Perez took the silver prize capping a career almost unheard of for a Valley athlete in any sport as she has qualified for state competition four years in a row. Last weekend, she showed once and for all her fears were unfounded.
“My freshman year I was intimidated a lot,” said Perez. “In every race, big or small I was nervous. This year, mentally I’m strong. I have a shot of making the national and my freshman year I would have thought it was impossible.”
Even as recently as last year Perez may have thought making nationals was improbable as she finished fifth in state competition. However, this year is proving to be the breakout culmination of a running career whose accomplishment has extended beyond just its own success.
Juarez-Lincoln track and cross country Head Coach Gilbert Carreon echoes Perez’s assessment of her maturity.
“She has developed mentally and gotten a lot tougher throughout the years,” said Carreon. "Of course her body has stayed the same but she’s gotten more mature and definitely tougher over the years.”
Perez smiles as she reflects on the difference between her freshman self and the runner she is now.
“My freshman year I only thought about running well or getting a medal. Now I feel like I have to win or at the very least run my heart out and do my best.”
Last weekend Perez certainly ran her heart out. Her time of 11 minutes, 18 seconds was second only to Willis’ Cali Roper who ran her race in a time of 11 minutes, 7 seconds.
According to Carreon, Roper was in Perez’s sights even before the race began and it was no surprise to either of them that the result came down to those two runners in particular.
“I just told her who the top runners were,” said Carreon. “We were running for the gold but Cali Roper just took off and we had trouble catching up with her. By the time Roper’s legs ran out ours had run out too.”
Regardless of the color of her medal however, it seems Perez’s success has had broader implications. Last weekend the Juarez-Lincoln boys cross country team also found success as they tied for fifth place in the 5K run with Keller Timber Creek with 152 points.
“Last year we had a runner named Angel Banda who is now running at the Division 1 level at Corpus Christi A&M. He helped her develop in wanting to be as successful as he was,” said Carreon. “That really helped her in that it gave her the expectation that if Angel could do it she could do it. In the same way her success has helped the boys in thinking that if this little girl can do it, they can do it.”
It is no small irony that Perez’s success in cross country, a sport often viewed as a lonely endeavor of personal discipline, has been so great that it has transcended just herself and infused her team, and perhaps the entire track program, with confidence.
Carreon believes much of the success of a program lies in what the students believe is possible.
“I’ve been in other programs that were successful and I think it’s about the expectations,” said Carreon. “If the students trust the coaching staff and we instill in the kids that they will be successful, they can instill it in each other.”
If that is the case, then the Juarez-Lincoln cross country and track program may yet still get even better. While last weekend was Perez’s last UIL-sanctioned cross country meet, she still will be running this weekend in Houston where if she places in the top five she will earn the opportunity to compete in the national competition in Eugene, Oregon.
And if that wasn’t enough, Perez also runs track and has the same expectations of success in January when track season gets underway.
As a matter of fact, she may even expect more.
“I feel like in track I’ll get the gold,” said Perez. “Track is actually my favorite sport.”
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