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Claudia Trejos Keeps Her Chin Up

The sportscaster perseveres despite criticism of her accent.

August 16, 1999|JOSE CARDENAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A bubbly Claudia Trejos is describing her first nights as KTLA-TV's weekend sports anchor. "I held on to the desk and said, 'Help me, God. I know I've been a bad girl, but you got to let me hang in here,' " she says, giggling.

Trejos is more lighthearted than one would expect right now.

As a transplant from the Spanish-language sports scene, Trejos' appearance on KTLA a month ago had a cold reception from some English-language media critics.

Her accent--which is light in off-the-air conversation--was ridiculed. Others questioned her lack of experience in the English market--especially because she replaced well-respected broadcaster Ed Arnold.

In thoughtful moments, Trejos reflects on the criticism, some of it from a Los Angeles Times sports columnist and some repeated recently in the New York Times.

"It hurts," she says.

But not badly enough to make her retreat.

The former UCLA medical student comes from a long line of fighters. Her mother, Graciela Gonzalez, was in her 40s when she finished high school and became a judge in Colombia. Her father, Arjemiro Trejos, never finished high school but became a successful businessman.

"It was a little more painful than I thought it was going to be because I know I'm good, I know sports--and I know I haven't risen to my level," Trejos says. "But the only way to get to that level . . . is through criticism."

In addition to her own determination, she counts on the support of Jeff Wald, KTLA's news director.

"You see, the personality you see here has not yet been able to develop on the air," Wald says. He hopes to shape her into a distinctive talent, different from some broadcasters, who, he says, look and sound alike.

Trejos, 30, also draws support from her younger sister Lorena and nephew Camilo--who live with her and are her only family in this country.

And then there are the athletes.

"The one that touched me the most was Ismael Valdes. He said, 'I've had bad days, I've had bad seasons,' " says Trejos of the Dodger pitcher. "They're taking a minute or so to say, 'Don't worry about it. You're going to be OK.' "

Others, such as Laker spokesman John Black, the Dodgers' Raul Mondesi--even former Dodger Dusty Baker, now the San Francisco Giants manager--have called or have encouraged her in person.

Last week, she says, boxer Oscar De La Hoya told her: " 'You know, Claudia, I've been watching you on the air all this time, and I didn't realize you had an accent. You talk just like me.' "

It's not the first time Trejos has ventured into places where some thought she didn't belong.

When she was 16, her parents agreed to send her to Switzerland to study applied sciences--she had threatened that if they didn't, she would travel the world working as a translator for a shipping company.

Her parents, who raised 17 children to be businesspeople and professionals, have been Trejos' inspiration. Her mother died two years ago, at 61.

Trejos' father, now 71, taught her to love sports, especially soccer and tennis. And his advice is particularly valuable to her now.

"You can only grow through pain," he used to tell her.

When Trejos landed in Los Angeles nine years ago, she was focused on becoming a doctor, which her mother had wanted. Then she got her first job in television running cables and errands at what is now Fox/Liberty Sports Network. She abandoned her medical plans when she became enamored of broadcasting and disenchanted with medicine--which she found is not equally accessible to the rich and poor.

She was disillusioned four years ago when she didn't have insurance and couldn't afford the appropriate medical tests. She had cervical cancer that initially was misdiagnosed.

The cancer, now in remission, serves as a reminder that there are worse things in life than being criticized for having an accent, she says.

But her strong will would not be of much use if there weren't colleagues at the station willing to go out on a limb for her, Trejos adds.

"I've been lucky enough to have people give me a hug at the worst times," she says.

News director Wald says the criticism has come mainly from media commentators who were understandably loyal to Arnold.

"They see this little upstart, and they don't know what to make of it," he says. "She knows her stuff, and she needs to have a chance like everyone else needs a chance."

Trejos says that replacing Arnold, who mentored her when she was at KWHY-TV, would have been difficult for anyone.

"It was a heavy weight to carry," she says. "But somebody had to do it, and if it was my opportunity, I might as well fly away with it."

Jose Cardenas can be reached by e-mail at jose.cardenas@latimes.com.

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