Hartnell College sophomore Daniela Salazar went through a rough patch at the start of the cross country season and got a later start than most of her peers.
The Watsonville High alumna suffered shin splints at the end of last year’s track and field season, which slowed her down and carried on into a slow start for this year’s cross country season.
After nearly eight weeks and hours of rehab, Salazar was back on the course. She said it was a time she doesn’t want to relive anytime soon.
“It was really depressing,” Salazar said. “I just felt like I was trapped in the weight room and all I wanted to do was go run. I didn’t care if I didn’t compete or if I didn’t finish off the season… I just really wanted to go run.”
Salazar was able to storm back and improved throughout the season, making her way to the CCCA Cross Country Championships at Woodward Park in Fresno. She placed fifth in 18 minutes, 46.1 seconds in the 3.1 mile race on Nov. 23.
Salazar also earned All-American honors for a second straight season.
“This season was everything to me because it was the last time that I was going to have Hartnell across my chest for the cross country season,” Salazar said.
Salazar is still set to compete in the track and field season.
“I’m in it for the long run,” Salazar said.
Salazar was offered a scholarship by San Jose State but she turned it down because they didn’t offer her housing. Instead, she decided to stay local to attend Hartnell.
Salazar has been under the guidance of Hartnell coach Chris Zepeda for the past two seasons.
“She was a great leader by example,” Zepeda said.
Zepeda said he was looking for the sophomores to step up as leaders on the team and Salazar rose to the challenge.
“That’s not an easy role to take,” he said. “You can just focus on yourself and what you want to achieve as an individual but she really was invested with the team doing well.”
Zepeda said they began the season unsure where they’d end up, especially after Salazar suffered her injury. He said he felt like they ran out of time to get her back into shape after she healed up from the injury.
“One of the things that we talked about is that she had already achieved so much it wouldn’t take that long to work back into that leadership role and work out,” Zepeda. “She’s such a good runner and knows what to do.”
Watsonville High cross country and track and field coach Rob Cornett said he believes she’ll land somewhere big because she’s improved over time.
“(Salazar’s) always had that cool calm, collected demeanor,” Cornett said.
Cornett said he’s seen his share of great runners come through Watsonville but not with the work ethic she displays.
“And the desire to be great,” he said. “Once she saw that she could reach a certain level then there was no holding her back. There were no limits for her.”
Cornett said she might seem calm on the outside but there’s something burning within her that makes her excell and pushes her to finish at the top.
Cornett said he knew there was something special about Salazar when she competed for the Wildcatz in all four years of high school.
“Anytime another athlete from a different school would challenge her in whatever race she was running, Daniela would just smile and welcome the challenge,” Cornett said.
Salazar was always a multi-sport athlete. She competed in things such as karate, soccer, basketball, flag football, volleyball and track and field.
Salazar was introduced to cross country during her freshman year at Watsonville and became committed to running since then.
“I just showed up without any intentions,” Salazar said. “I wanted to be a part of something and meet new friends. That’s kind of how I started.”
Salazar said she was shy at first, just like any freshman would be, and wasn’t in shape to run long distances. Plus, she mentioned her running gear wasn’t the best and remembers running in a pair of Vans.
“We probably did a four-mile run and that was probably the longest distance I’d ever run in my life,” Salazar said. “I was sore for maybe two weeks.”
Salazar didn’t expect to make it to the Central Coast Section meet in her freshman year. She recalls competing in the league championships and qualifying for the next round.
“In all honesty I was a little bummed out because I just really wanted to stop running, I was a little bit tired,” Salazar said. “I didn’t expect to make it that far… I was like, ‘I have a shot here.’”
Salazar said she began her freshman season running near the 26-minute mark in the 3-mile race and finished the year by setting a season record best, at the time, in 22:11. She set her best time again in her senior year in 19:33.
Now, she’s making her way to All-American status and is ready to face the next challenge.
Salazar said she has yet to decide what school she wants to go to next but she has her eyes set on one in Colorado. She said she feels a lot more prepared this time around.
“I feel like I can take the world now,” Salazar said.
Editor’s Note:This article will be published in the Dec. 6 edition of The Pajaronian.