Today marks the true starting point of the cross country season for two Danbury runners on their way to achieving their goals, one step at a time.
Seniors Sahvanna Thompson and Gustavo Torres both hope to make it past today’s district meet to regional and then to state. The destination for both runners is the same, but their paths to the promised land have been very different.
Thompson has been running cross country since she was in seventh grade after one of her junior high coaches pushed her to try. Once she got her foot in the door, she hasn’t looked back.
“I really didn’t want to do it, but a coach wanted me to do it since every time we ran long distances for something I was good at it,” Thompson said. “I kept doing it, and as a freshman at Alvin, I made it to region. Then I moved to Danbury and have been running here and ever since I’ve loved it.”
She’s been the leader of the pack in cross country, making it to state her sophomore and junior years, finishing 14th as a sophomore and ninth as a junior. She’s also the reigning District 24-3A champion and holds Danbury school records with a 5 minute, 20 second mile and 12 minute two-mile.
Though she’s achieved so much in cross country and track, she still feels nervous before every race.
“I always get nervous before every race. The worst is during regional,” Thompson said. “My dad, David Kulhanek, never misses a race and encourages me before every one. He’s always been supportive of me.”
Though she’s been to state, Thompson ranks regional meets as her most difficult race.
“Region meets are so hard, it is definitely the worst meet,” she said. “It’s not easy to make it, and you’re running against over 100 girls that are good, too. At state, you’ve already made it and proved yourself.”
With that in mind, Thompson likes to train as hard as she can because she knows the level of competition she will face.
Thompson likes to run against the boys on her Panther squad and loves when she’s able to beat them.
“We run together around town and I try to pace myself with them because they’re faster than me, but sometimes I beat them,” Thompson said. I feel exhausted afterward, but I know it’s good for me and I like beating them.”
When it’s all said and done, Thompson has achieved feats no other girl in Danbury history has, but winning a state title would be the icing on the cake.
“I really hope I can win state this time. I know it’ll be hard, but a lot of the girls ahead of me last year were seniors so I think I have a chance.”
Torres started cross country his seventh grade year, starting a competitive running career that proves other people wrong with each step.
“I’m a twin, I was born premature and my parents and I were told I wouldn’t be able to run and do things other kids could do,” Torres said. “I have heart problems that still bother me today, but I keep running to prove people wrong.”
Torres hasn’t been able to make it past district in his career, but he hasn’t shied away from the drive of making it there.
For him, it’s all about getting over the hump and taking things one step at a time.
“Since I’ve had a lot of difficulties with my health, I just want to make it to regional,” he said. “I didn’t make it last year, I was one place away, but if I make it through then I want to make it to state. I just have to take one thing at a time.”
Torres has tried to push himself to be the best runner he can. His unwillingness to let his health issues stand in his way can be seen in what he’s been able to achieve. He pushes himself without fear, including deciding to run in today’s district meet at Palacios.
“They told me the worst thing that could happen to me is I could collapse and die,” Torres said. “It really had me thinking if I should run this race or not, and my parents don’t want me to because I have my whole life ahead of me. I decided though that I will run and hopefully I don’t have chest pains during or after the race.”
His parents, Gus and Melly Torres, have been supportive of him throughout his time running.
“They come out to every single race and my mom prays I cross the finish line and nothing bad happens to me,” he said. “My dad said if I don’t make it to regional or state, he’ll drive me up to regionals and state so I can experience everything myself.”
Through all the ups and downs Torres has had, he hasn’t given up on what he believes in and will continue to do what he loves — running.
“It has really changed my life for the better. God gave me the ability to run and the competition is the best part,” Torres said. “It’s a mental sport, it’s very challenging, but I love it.”