I recently met up with our WNMU cross country team as they started their workout early in the morning in preparation for their upcoming track season. Although we do not have an official track team, all of our cross country runners compete in the Spring in a shortened track season. They have workouts three times a week at Fox Field, along with a couple days of long runs for recovery. Above, not all members were pictured, as some of them were out sick. However, those that were present did their workout with a good attitude, and their coach even ran a couple sprints with some of them. Luckily, a few of them were willing to talk to me about their experiences here as a student athlete, the challenges they have faced, and the family they found within their team.
Jazmine Vertrees spoke with me about her time here in Silver City. She is a cell and molecular biology major, with hopes to go into the medical field after earning her degree. Although she is a freshman here at WNMU, she is already ahead in her studies. She is from Safford, Arizona, where she completed college classes during her time in high school. Due to the fact that she was a dual enrollment student, she is academically considered a junior here at the university.
Vertrees likes that Silver City is small because it reminds her of home. She says, “The campus is definitely bigger than my old college, but, at the same time I like that it is small because you get to see the same people and you’re not meeting new ones all the time. It helps that the classrooms are small too because it’s hard to fail. You definitely develop a relationship with your professor, and you also have classmates to help you out. There’s not much to do here besides what you came to do. It’s easy for me to stay busy; my major is really hard, and I also have a job outside of school. It’s kind of weird being away from home, but at the same time I kind of felt a little bit relieved because I get to be here and do my own thing, so I was excited when I came.”
Vertrees also discusses the team dynamics. “I feel like we’re pretty close. We’re open with each other. Even with our coach, he’s really open with us and we’re open with him back, so it’s really good communication wise. He’s pretty understanding of school and work, and that we have a life outside of cross country. To him, school comes first, so any time we have school work or a lab he’s just like, ‘okay, you’re gone, go for it,’ and as for teammates, we’re pretty close now. I mean, we do have our own cliques, but in the end, we all come together for meets or whenever we want to hang out as a team.”
David Apodaca is a freshman this year at the university as well. He is a nineteen-year-old from Rio Rancho, New Mexico, and has been running for the past four years. This is his fifth year as a runner. “I have not run college track yet, but my first ever season is coming up. As far as the team, it’s phenomenal. I came here and I found what I basically call a second family. I knew it right away the second we started clicking. I knew that as time progressed, we’d all be a lot closer than we already were when we started off. My experience here has been good so far.” When asked about his preference between cross country and track, Apodaca said, “I’ll definitely run faster in track; I just don’t like running in circles so much. I like that for cross country you just go out in a direction either around the campus or in the wilderness, and I just prefer competition like that.”
Apodaca also discusses what he likes about Silver City. “I didn’t have a specific reason for why I came here, but I was really into the scenery and where the school was located. The elevation was a plus because I would be training for an extended period of time at a high elevation, and most of our races would likely be at lower elevations, so that’s just a win already. On top of that, they had some pretty interesting art programs. I’ve already been through a sculpting class, which was great, and I’m currently taking a photography class this semester.”
Robert Salazar, originally from Yuma, Arizona, is one of the older runners on the team this year. He is twenty-three years old, and like Vertrees, he also has a job outside of work and finds it easy to stay busy. “When I got here I got injured. It was just a whole new environment. It was hard to adapt to the altitude and get my rhythm going. I was just trying to run the same mileage and the same pace that I had been running over there, when the environment was different here, so it was just hard to adjust and that caused me to get injured. It was a rough start but once I got past that phase I was good. I like cross country and everything, but track is my thing. That’s where I run the fastest times and do the best. It’s just been a roller coaster, but I’m finally good now, so my experience overall has been good so far.”
Salazar also told me that Western was not the first option for him when considering schools. “My first choice was a school in Colorado, but that didn’t work out. I chose Western because Coach Campos kept telling me about the program, and he was persistent. What caught my attention was the altitude, and I figured I could become a better runner if I were to just come over here and train at this elevation. It just happened to work out that there was a kinesiology program here that I needed to graduate. I’m trying to become a physical therapist, so once I get my bachelor’s degree I’m going to go to grad school and then I’ll eventually become a physical therapist.”
Coach Campos was also kind enough to talk to me while his team did their morning workout. He has been coaching here at the university for more than a decade. He was the assistant coach for two years before he became the head coach. He is a Lordsburg native, where he still lives, and commutes to Silver City every day. He explained a little bit about how the cross country team competes during the spring track season. “When a university only sponsors Cross Country as their official sponsored sport, the NCAA allows that specific team a shortened season during the spring season, which we are currently in. We have a maximum number of meets that we are allowed to compete at, which we take full advantage of, and we’ve been doing that since we started the program.”
Campos also explains, “In order to compete during the track season you need to have participated in cross country. Practices range depending on the part of the season we’re in. Right now we’re limited because we’re in the non-championship segment. The NCAA regulates how many hours you can practice a week. Right now were at eight hours per week, and we have to have two days off, which would be Saturday and Sunday. Once we declare our forty-five day period we’re practicing differently. We’re barely coming off of the base training, so we’re transitioning over to the track right now, and this is our third day here.”
The team kicked off their spring season on March fifteenth in Tucson, Arizona, and will have four more races through the middle of April.