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Boyle Heights running coach honored for inspiring students

September 19, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
It isn't uncommon for high school track and cross-country teams to run as many as 95 miles per week. Imagine doing most of it barefoot. That's exactly what some high-schoolers in Boyle Heights are doing for economic reasons. And they have managed to become quite successful.

"There's a light post, a stoplight every quarter-mile. There's no grass, there are no parks that we can run at, there are no trails. So we get to run sidewalks, the absolute worst possible thing that a runner can do," said Bishop Mora Salesian High School track coach Justin Torres.

So Torres has them run barefoot on the track to reduce injury and save money.

"They can't afford to buy $100, $120 shoes every two to three months," said Torres.

The norm is changing shoes six times yearly. But his boys can barely afford one pair. So they hit the track shoeless.

And it seems to work: Last year his team took 2nd and 3rd in state for track and cross-country.

With 90 percent of the team earning a 3.0 GPA or higher, they're also successful in scholastics. One freshman came in with D's and finished school with a 4.0 and running scholarships.

"We now have six athletes that are in college on running scholarships," said Torres.

His team say Torres uses the "trickle-down effect," asking seniors to hold younger members accountable.

"Coming to this school they tell you it's a family, it's a big family, and you build a big brotherhood," said student Anthony Parida, from Eagle Rock.

"My brothers just every day telling me to do the right thing and setting me straight. Always really helps," said student Salvador Garcia, from Huntington Park.

So the kids know that coach Torres does wonderful things. And one company heard about what he's doing and they gave him the "Golden Shoe Award."

"He was just a standout. What he's doing for this team and the impact he is making on young runners is astounding," said Derek Lactaoen, Brooks Shoes marketing coordinator.

Out of 2,000 nationwide nominations, Torres won the Inspiring Coach of the Year, sponsored by Brooks Shoes, earning $10,000 in performance running gear, plus $2,500 for entry fees and operational costs.

When Torres arrived five years ago there were 12 to 13 cross-country runners. He now has more than 45. And the track team, which started with six runners, now has 60 runners.

"If you want to win, if you want to be competitive, if you want to be successful in whatever you do, we need to work harder than anybody else," said Torres.


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