I came from nothing. I was overweight and in seventh grade. Every week I’d run the Mile time trial, always coming in last. My 1600m time in seventh grade was 13:00+, the clock stopped after 13:00 minutes because everyone had finished. In eighth grade, something clicked.
I woke up one morning, with a drive. With a dream. I took PE class seriously. I started working just a little bit harder, just a little bit more. The Mile, Two mile, all of it, I still came in last. That didn’t stop me.
Freshman year, high school. Right after finishing middle school I immediately signed up for a Cross Country summer camp for the High School I was going to go to. “What did I get myself into?” I told myself. I didn’t belong here. I had no running experience prior to that.
First day, I was terrified. I ran 10 minutes. One of the head Varsity guys asked me if I was tired, I replied quickly, “I’m okay, I can keep going” and then he told me, “Well your 10 minutes are up.”
I came home that day contemplating whether or not I should continue with this. I kept going. First week, absolute agony. Second week, absolute agony. Third, fourth, fifth, agony. Today, agony.
I raced my first 5k, I clocked in at 33:00. The clock stopped after that. I was last. Again. That summer I was the only freshman. I ran everyday with the Varsity guys, always ending up 150m behind them, forcing them to turn around and pick me up.
That summer we attended a week long high-altitude training camp at Mammoth mountain. I was scared. Every day I ran so slow that I was jogging next to the coaches who were walking behind the varsity guys, I forced myself to keep going.
The Friday of that camp, one of the varsity guys called us all in, Ben. He called us in for a personal team meeting at 8:45. That night I broke. I started crying. I cried because I was the only freshman, and I thought I’d never surmount to anything.
They talked to me. Told me I could do anything. That meeting was important, and it holds an important place in my heart even today.
The weeks immediately following that camp I raced once again. 24:00 for the 5k. As soon as I finished the varsity guys surrounded me and started screaming and shouting and cheering me, they were so excited. In that moment I realized, I can do anything.
Every day I woke up with a passion, every day I woke up knowing I can give my best. KNOWING what I did out there in the world can make a difference.
Winter 2014, Cross Country banquet. Little Mari Aquino they called me, sat there not expecting to be recognized. As I sat there and waited I hear my name, “Mari Aquino, Freshman of the Year” Explosions. The whole team exploded. They were cheering me on as I walked up there. I was astounded. I recall my coach saying, “These awards aren’t handed to the fastest, or the strongest runners, they’re handed to the runners who are the most dedicated, diligent, and runners who put themselves through anything regardless of the odds.”
For that amazing year of my life, flourished the greatest era of my life. I ran under the radar that year. No one knowing my name.
Fast forward to today, February 5, 2016. Mari Aquino, that little freshman, now a Sophomore. To date, my personal record for the 5k is 17:44. Dropping nearly 8 minutes. Running 90 miles a week. Training as an elite runner.
Cross Country was the foundation of my forward mindset. I ran JV National Championships at the California MT. San Antonio College race.
There’s not much to explain.
Every day I put myself through so much agony, asking for more. Knowing that this pain will turn me into a champion. Today I do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can do what others can’t.
This world is a beautiful place. If only that little seventh grader knew what he’d become.
I came from nothing.
“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.”