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Small in Stature, Her Racing Resume Grows

At 4 feet 8 and 90 pounds, Corona's Escobar wins girls' cross-country sweepstakes race at Woodbridge Invitational.

September 19, 2004|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

Alma Escobar still feels the stares when she strides away from the starting line, almost as though she's the lone participant in a race.

But eyes no longer train on Escobar solely for her diminutive frame. Escobar, a junior cross-country runner at Corona, is gaining more attention for the way she dwarfs the competition.

"She has a Cadillac engine in a Volkswagen body," said Don Chadez, the athletic director at Corona and a former track and cross-country coach for 26 years.

At 4 feet 8 and 90 pounds, Escobar stood out again Saturday night by winning the girls' sweepstakes race at the Woodbridge Invitational in 17 minutes 6 seconds on the three-mile course. She steadily increased her lead in the final mile, defeating runner-up Lauren Saylor of Clovis Buchanan by 19 seconds and third-place finisher Brenda Martinez of Rancho Cucamonga by 24 seconds.

"I just wanted to win," Escobar said. "Around the two-mile mark I had a lot in me, so I decided to go."

Santa Rosa Carillo won the girls' team title in the sweepstakes race. Simi Valley Royal won the boys' sweepstakes title. Brandon Bethke of Lake Forest El Toro won the boys' sweepstakes race in 14:22, eight seconds ahead of runner-up Brett Campfield of Temecula Valley.

Escobar's success is noteworthy for more than her physique. Entering high school, she lacked experience participating in athletics.

"I was afraid of the ball," she said of participating in physical education classes.

Escobar didn't run much before high school. At the end of her eighth-grade year, she was given a questionnaire from Corona High. One section inquired about the student's interest in athletic participation. She checked track and field.

"I just wanted to run," she said.

When the cross-country season began, Escobar wasn't among the three fastest freshmen. She was equally slow to grasp the concepts of training.

"At first, I would just jog with anyone," she said. "I wouldn't set a pace, I just ran with whomever was there."

But it didn't take long for her natural ability to shine through. She made the varsity by midseason and she was the best runner on the team by season's end.

Escobar proved it by leading her team across the finish line at the Southern Section Division I final, finishing 37th overall in 19:05 on the Mt. San Antonio College course.

She came back last season and continued to demonstrate her monumental improvement, finishing third in the Division I final in 17:48. A hip injury slowed Escobar at the state finals in Fresno, but she still managed to finish 17th in 18:32.07.

Those who have followed Escobar believe her future lies on the oval.

She has recorded Riverside County's third-fastest girls' time in the 3,200 (10:47.21) and fifth-fastest 1,600 (5:04.62).

"I see her as an NCAA 10,000 meter runner," Chadez said.

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