Esperanza Medina huddle

Fellow runners huddle with Glendale High School’s Esperanza Medina, the only Cardinals cross country runner, after a recent meet.

How would you compete if you were the only person on a team, you faced more criticism from your opponents than anyone on the course, and your chances of qualifying for a state tournament were nearly zero?

Glendale cross country runner Esperanza Medina knows her chances of qualifying for the state tournament are slim and she has faced an uphill battle all season, but between her smile and attitude, she is a champion.

“I have never heard of one person being the lone person on a team, and if I have, it didn’t last long,” Glendale assistant coach Jody May said. “If a teenage girl is not in her comfort zone, they usually quit, and Espy is just that special and is dealing with the adversity almost perfectly.”

Medina faces adversity every meet, but has handled it with respect and the desire to show that she belongs on the course.

Before the first race of the season, Medina said she heard girls talking about her in the restroom and she wasn’t sure she could race.

“The first meet, after hearing the girls saying before the race, ‘what is she doing here,’ and ‘we are going to blow her off the course,’ it upset me and scared me a little,” Media said. “When I got on the starting line, the other girls that were there looked at me weird. I wanted to quit, but my coaches and the boys on our team told me just focus on my race and try my best and I decided to give it a go and have never looked back.”

That was an understatement and in her first race, running by herself, Median finished 12th and gained the respect of her opponents quickly.

“After that race, the other girls actually came up to me and were apologizing to me and telling me they couldn’t do what I was doing, racing by myself,” Medina said.

Being the only girl on the cross country team, Medina has faced adversity all season and May says she is the perfect girl to handle the situation.

“If you are only going to have one girl to represent your school, Espy is the perfect person for that,” May said. “She is representing Glendale High School in the best way possible and I have been in awe the way she has handled it.”

Medina said she struggled with weight issues at a young age and started running to try and stay fit. After her first race, she quit and stopped running because she said she didn’t like to fail.

“When I didn’t do very well in my first race, I quit,” Medina said. “It was hard for me to stay in shape, so I started running in cross country, but I quit because it was too hard,”

After giving it up, some runners on the boys team at that time told her something that changed her mind.

“After my first race, I stopped, but some of the boys would say I looked like a runner and I should try it, but I didn’t tell them I had quit, and came back and fell in love with it,” she said.

She continued running to lose weight and said she lost a lot of weight. As she entered high school, she knew she had work to do, but was focused on improving her times.

“I try to get to practice early and spend a lot of time in the gym to get stronger,” Medina said. “I know that I am not the fastest girl on the course, but I am going to work harder to get better every race.”

May pointed out that Medina has shaved nearly a minute off her mile time this season, but it could have been more if she had teammates to assist her.

“She spent a lot of time early on this season, when she had a couple of girls that were on the team, helping them and trying to get them stronger,” May said. “I wonder how much better and faster she might be if she could have focused on herself all season.”

While Medina said she agreed with that, she wouldn’t change anything about this season.

“I worked hard to try and get some of the girls to stay on the team, running with them and encouraging them, but when they got injured, they quit,” Medina said. “I put in a lot of work to help them and sometimes I felt like I wasted my time trying to help them, but I would love to have some teammates, so I am torn on all that work. I just know I wouldn’t change anything about this season; it has been hard, but it has been fun.”

As the season has continued, Medina has improved her times, has finished in the top 10 of some races and continues to work toward her goal of qualifying for the state championships and leaving her mark at the school.

“I would like to be remembered as someone who worked hard and was successful as a person, runner and student,” Medina said. “I am honored to run for Glendale High School and will continue to try and work hard to keep that up.”

May said that while it has been tough for Medina to be the only person on the team, which makes her having to finish in the top five at the Regional meet in order to qualify for state this year, she has proven this season is a success.

When asked what would make for a perfect ending to this season, May summed it up best with three words while getting emotional, “It already is.”