With graduation just around the corner, Merari Valenzuela’s future in cross country – and college -was uncertain.
In 2016, during her senior year at El Paso High School she had torn her ACL during basketball season and split her meniscus.
Merari was faced with the decision to either go through surgery – with the looming challenge of learning how to walk again before she could tie up her laces and race competitively in a 5k – or wait until basketball season was over.
With a full cross-country scholarship on the line – she chose surgery in the hopes of being better by the start of the cross-country season.
Then, the lengthy healing process began.
“Most institution usually opted to drop the student athlete, which is within the bounds of the National Junior College Athletic Association policies,” said Cross Country Coach Felix Hinojosa. “However, our program takes a different approach. We would rather work with the student athlete.”
For the first 6 months, Valenzuela could not run, but EPCC honored her scholarship and she was able to complete her education, while being red-shirted on the cross-country team for her first season.
“It was frustrating at times because you want to be with your teammates,” she said. “It’s like you see them running and you want to go but your leg doesn’t let you because it’s still trying to recuperate and heal. I had to learn how to walk again and learn all the basics,” Valenzuela said.
“We incorporated multi-joint movement training patterns, water running, woodway curve treadmill intervals and sport specific strength training,” Hinojosa said. With this additional strengthening and conditioning exercises from Cross Country Coach Felix Hinojosa,
Valenzuela was able to make a full recovery and run with her teammates in the women’s half marathon in 2017. The team placed second at the National Junior College Athletic Association Championship in Topeka, Kansas.
Throughout her training and healing process, Valenzuela also maintained a 4.0 GPA, which has earned her an Out of State Competitive Award of $15,579 per academic year at New Mexico State University.
Additionally, she was awarded the 1888 Leadership Transfer Scholarship which amounts to $2,500 per academic year.
“EPCC has helped me maintain a high GPA because our coach emphasizes the fact that we are students before athletes,” she said. “He expects us to maintain a high GPA because it opens up opportunities to receive academic scholarships. Having a high GPA allows us to be noticed more when it comes to honor societies as well.”
Valenzuela said since she started at EPCC, she decided to major in Biology in preparation for becoming a Neonatologist, or a doctor who works with newborns.
In 5 years she hopes to be finished with medical school and starting her residency. Valenzuela credits her success as a runner and as a student to her coach and EPCC. “Here at EPCC, you are close to home, but you are also independent, and athletically it helped me become a new runner and find out what are my strengths and weaknesses.”