There has never been any doubt about the running ability of Angel Martinez.
As an eighth-grader at Fern Intermediate School in Rosemead, he shattered a school record with a time of five minutes, 12 seconds in the mile.
Since entering San Gabriel High, Martinez has continued to make rapid progress. As a sophomore last year, he posted times of 4:19 in the mile and 8:56 in the two mile and finished fifth in the state in the 3,200 meter-run.
Martinez may have made his biggest impression in December, when he finished seventh in the Kinney National High School Cross Country Championships in San Diego.
He will take the top time among returning prep runners into the boys' two mile at the Sunkist Invitational Track Meet Friday at the Sports Arena.
But for Martinez, 17, his greatest difficulties have always arisen away from the track.
When he was in junior high, one of his biggest problems was staying clear of street gangs.
"Maybe half of my junior high friends are either in gangs or related to gang (members)," Martinez said.
Fortunately for Martinez, he never liked the idea of belonging to a gang.
"It just didn't appeal to me to do what they're doing--writing on walls and fighting," he said. "I thought it was stupid. I didn't see any reason to fight. It wasn't part of my dream and it wasn't what I wanted to do with myself."
But perhaps the most difficult challenge for Martinez has been staying academically eligible. He finished fifth in the state last season in the 3,200 meters despite missing most of the season because he was academically ineligible.
"Last season he spent sixth period doing homework in my office so his fifth-place showing in the state was really amazing," said Michelle Buchicchio, his coach at San Gabriel.
Martinez also finished seventh in the Kinney Cross Country Nationals despite missing the entire high school season because of academic problems.
Martinez said his problems stem partly from a poor academic track record in his family. He said his parents didn't graduate from high school and neither did many of his relatives.
"They were just on their own a lot," he said of his parents. "No one ever sat them down and had them do their homework. They just did whatever they wanted."
Studying was probably the last thing Martinez had on his mind in junior high.
"I was just a pest," he said. "I was a weird fellow in junior high. I was like the class clown. I got kicked out of probably every classroom I'd go into. It was ugly. I'd be in the principal's office all the time."
Since entering high school, though, Martinez said his attitude has taken a turn for the better.
"Since I've been here, everything has just changed," he said. "I haven't gotten in trouble once. I've kind of mellowed out and grown up."
As a student, Martinez admits that he has had his highs and lows since arriving at San Gabriel. However, he said his academic prospects have started to blossom since he participated in the crosscountry nationals.
"We went to San Diego for nationals and that was just a great experience," he said. "Meeting all the people from other states and the international stars was really good for me. But the best thing was that they gave me a lot of good advice about getting an education and I guess that's when it hit me inside that it was time to think about that more."
Since then, Martinez said he has given his studies top priority.
"I'd say it's about 70% school and 30% track right now," he said. "I'm concentrating a lot because education is a big thing. Track's not going to be around for me forever so I'm hitting the books."
In turn, Martinez said it has made going to school more enjoyable.
"I still have to work on picking up my grades," Martinez said. "I wish I had started on it last year because it would've been better but I guess I was just too naive. But it's not too late to start.
"It's better this year than any year since I've been here and getting back to the team also adds a little excitement to it."
If not for his academic difficulties of the past, Buchicchio said Martinez would certainly be a major-college prospect. He has even received letters from Arizona, North Carolina, Georgetown and South Carolina.
Although Martinez expects to go to college, he realizes his first stop will probably not be at a four-year school.
"I'll probably go to a (junior college) and get everything straightened out because my freshman and sophomore years were really (bad) years for me," he said.
From Buchicchio's perspective, if Martinez doesn't succeed academically, it will not be for lack of trying.
"I think with Angel it won't be that he doesn't want to learn," she said. "He is trying to improve and I just hope he has the right skills when he gets to college. He's a very bright kid."
Martinez made an immediate impact on the varsity as a freshman, posting top marks of 4:26 in the mile and 9:17 in the two mile. After his success as a sophomore, he expects even better times this season.