Sophia Chavez makes strides at Guerin from novice to captain

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ELMWOOD PARK — Sophia Chavez knew nothing about distance running when she came to Guerin as a freshman.

That’s how it remained until her sophomore year when a friend talked Chavez into joining her on the cross country team.

Even though the friend would quit the team later that season, Chavez stuck with it and has reaped the rewards. Now a senior, Chavez is the captain of the team.

“I didn’t even know what cross country was until [Gators coach Earl Danan] explained it to me,” Chavez said. “I loved the whole family concept that Mr. Danan encourages and I love how good it makes you feel when you improve your time. I never even thought I could run one mile when I started, but I did it and it made me feel really good about myself.”

Chavez gives a lot of credit to Danan. He’s a pretty good salesman because he convinced Chavez and a couple of other girls at Guerin to join the wrestling team last year.

Chavez was worried about how she would be accepted, but Danan made sure everything went smoothly.

“I was a girl going into a guy’s sport and Mr. Danan didn’t make me feel out of place,” Chavez said. “He made me feel comfortable the whole time and the wrestling team felt the same as cross country, like a family. He’s one of the best coaches/teachers I’ve ever had. He encourages you the whole time and he never doubts you for one second no matter how much you doubt yourself.”

Danan is thankful Chavez was willing to take on challenges that not many girls would be willing to try.

“She was kind of the shy type at first,” Danan said. “But now she’s not only coachable but she is like a coach, too. She has the positive attitude and has really stepped up, not only on the course but in the classroom, in theater and as a wrestler. She’s not going to limit herself and now anytime someone tells her she can’t do something, she’s going to prove them wrong.”

Teammates enjoy following Chavez’s lead.

“She’s a really good captain and is always encouraging us,” cross country teammate Florina Carillo said. “She also is always working really hard to get better.”

Chavez has seen dramatic improvements since she joined two years ago. When she started running, completing a three-mile race was difficult. It took her around 34 minutes, but she kept working and got better.

Chavez finished the three-mile race in 27:45 at the Metro Suburban East Pre-Conference Meet hosted by Elmwood Park on Sept. 16.

“I love the Elmwood Park race course and how you can see the whole school,” she said. “The whole time I was thinking of catching the girls in front of me and I did. When I finished I actually shaved one minute off my time.”

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