One thing I regret about “Born to Run” was not getting more of Luis Escobar into it. During the Copper Canyon adventure, he was always upbeat and up for anything. Caballo called him “Coyote,” and that pretty much nails it: without his quick eye and instincts, photos like this would never have existed:
Recently, he spoke with “Run Barefoot Girl” about everything from Barefoot Ted’s remarkable influence on the running industry to what it was like to hunt for Caballo and play the Tarahumara ball game with Silvino:
This is the kind of guy we’re talking about:
Kenny Cress / Times Sports Writer |
Thursday, November 6, 2003
Last February Antonio Ortiz, an autistic eighth grader at McKenzie Junior High in Guadalupe, wrote a letter to the Los Angeles Lakers basketball organization.
He explained in detail how much he loved the team and requested a ticket to a game. The organization was so impressed it sent Antonio/s entire class tickets to see the club/s March 21 home game against the Boston Celtics.
Now he is applying the same zeal to cross country running as he did to letter writing that February day.
Ortiz is a freshman at Righetti High now, and he competes for the Warriors/ junior varsity boys cross country team.
“He comes in last, dead last, every race,” says Righetti cross country coach Luis Escobar. “But he never quits, he never walks.
“He/s the only kid out here who has been to every practice. He is the first one to get here and the last one to leave.”
Autism is a lifelong neurological disorder for which, as of now anyway, there is no cure. Autistic traits can include lack of empathy and problems forming interpersonal bonds.
However, “The kids love him,” Escobar says of Ortiz. “Sometimes he does drive them crazy 7 he can repeat things endlessly (an autistic trait), and the kids will tell him, /Antonio, SHUT UP./”
His fellow Righetti runners/ affection for him is obvious, though. They encourage him loudly during the races he/s in.
“The kids tease him a lot, good naturedly,” Escobar says. “He/s very open (about his autism).
“He was in special education at McKenzie, but he started in the regular ed program when he got to Righetti.”
“I take math, reading, P.E., study skills,” among other courses, Ortiz says.
“I really want to take home ec next because of all the girls in there.”
“I had never run cross country before in my life,” Ortiz adds. “Let me tell you something 7 Jesus Solis and Kenna Wolter inspire me.”
Solis and Wolter are Righetti/s top boys and girls runners respectively, and they are among the favorites in the PAC-5 League Finals varsity races today.
“Jesus Solis is a great runner,” Ortiz says.
The PAC-5 finals begin at 2 p.m. with junior varsity races at the Fairbanks Course across from Cuesta College. The top three varsity teams in each division are guaranteed berths in the CIF Preliminaries. Righetti/s boys and girls varsity teams both figure to qualify.
Ortiz is a first-time runner, but it did not take him long to decide his course preference 7 the flatter, the better.
“I hate all courses with hills,” he says, well, flatly. “I hate Mt. SAC. I hate Atascadero. I hate Atascadero the worst, because it makes my legs tight.”
Alas for him, his last race this year will be at a course with hills aplenty.
Regardless of how he finishes today, Ortiz/s season has been one of accomplishment 7 he ran a personal best late in the season, the ideal time to run one.
“He PR/d by 20 seconds at the Santa Barbara County meet,” says Escobar. “He ran 37:50,” over the flat three-mile course at River Park in Lompoc.
Not only that, he has lost weight, he points out proudly. “When I started, I weighed 250 pounds,” he says. “Now I weigh 237. I am 6-2, 237.
“The girls tell me I/ve lost weight.”
And he is bucking a trend. Because of poor coordination, studies cite, many autistic children are disinclined toward sports.
Ortiz has gone dead in the opposite direction. “I like all the sports 7 football, baseball, basketball, wrestling, cross country, track.
“My favorite sport to watch is basketball.” In fact, Escobar and others have said, Ortiz can rattle off reams of statistics concerning his beloved Lakers with dead on accuracy.
“Everything there is to know about the Lakers,” Escobar says, “He knows.”
Escobar adds, “Sometimes he forgets his shoes. But he knows what happened on June 15, 2001. He/s like Rainman.
“His nickname is /Ferocious./ That/s the boxer Fernando Vargas/ nickname. Antonio says he had it first.”
Escobar calls out, “Hey, Antonio!,” Ortiz inclines his head toward his coach and Escobar says, “When did you get the nickname /Ferocious?/”
“!995,” comes the immediately reply.
Ortiz says he is running to get in shape “for wrestling. Then I want to do track. I/m a sprinter 7 I want to do the 100 meters. And I want to throw the shot put.”
Some of Ortiz/s struggles are typical of many who have autism. When other Righetti runners take off to do roadwork, Ortiz stays on the running track to do his workouts.
“He/s gotten lost before,” says Escobar. “He gets confused easily. I/m with him (for guidance) during the last two miles usually,” during races.
“Luis Escobar is the reason I am out for cross country,” says Ortiz. “I went out for cross country when I got cut from freshman football.
“When I was cut from (freshman) football, I was (ticked) off. I didn/t understand why I was cut.”
Escobar, whose son Brad is a star running back for St. Joseph, understands.
“It/s the football team/s loss, but really they just couldn/t have him out there,” Escobar says.
“He would have gotten his clock cleaned. He would have been a danger to himself and others 7 he wouldn/t have been able to think fast enough (during the course of the action). He would have been hurt.”
“He came to me after he got cut from football. He said /When are the cuts?/ I said, /There are no cuts. You come to practice, run every race, you/re on the team./”
There were uniform problems to overcome.
“Antonio took a double extra large shirt size,” says Escobar. “I looked around, and there really weren/t any.
“The day of our first race, at Morro Bay, Jeff Rubio, who owns Venue Sports in San Luis Obispo, brought over a double extra large shirt to us himself.”
“He doesn/t really have a pair of running shoes,” Escobar says of Ortiz. “He/s wearing Number 35, Phillip Adam/s shoes, right now.”
Adam is a linebacker-fullback for the St. Joseph football team. “I knew that Antonio wore about the same shoe size as Phillip and his brother Jeff,” says Escobar. “I called their mother to ask about it, and they brought over three pairs of shoes for Antonio to try. These are the ones we chose.”
Ortiz has worked hard in those shoes, and he expresses the same fondness for Escobar that his coach has for him.
“Luis Escobar,” Ortiz says, “is a great man.”
November 06, 2003