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Top Area Runner Visits Junior High

On the Friday that students were getting out for winter break, Oakdale Junior High School students had the opportunity to run alongside a nationally ranked high school runner during their seventh period PE class.

Riverbank High School cross country running star and two time California Div. IV state champion German Fernandez visited the late period PE classes to talk to the students about his sport, training and college recruitment.

OJHS Principal Marc Malone said that part of the reason for having Fernandez visit the school was also to give the students "a look at what hard work can accomplish."

"He's a California state champion, which is pretty impressive," said Malone.

After a video presentation of his recent state race, and answering questions about his training regimen, Fernandez then ran the junior high's approximate three-quarters of a mile cross country course with the students twice, once by himself, and once with his coach.

He ran with different students in the pack of runners. At the start, he kept himself in the middle of the pack, then he told the students running near the front to run smart and not tire themselves or push themselves too early, then he fell back to the middle again, telling them to keep up the good work, then he slowed to run with the students near the back.

"When you're in back, your self-esteem goes down," he said.

Knowing how that can affect a young runner, he cheered them on and told them to finish the whole way strong and finished the course with them, giving them pointers about keeping their hands low, not to breathe too fast, work together as a team, and push hard.

"It was really cool. He said he really liked running. He was very nice and he said I had a really clear run," said OJHS seventh grader Kylie Gust. "It's not every day you get to run next to a guy like that ... It's probably the best (running) time I've ever gotten."

Fernandez came to OJHS through a connection with Vice Principal John Simons, who knew Fernandez as a junior high student when Simons was Vice Principal at Cardozo Middle School in Riverbank, as well as through a teaching connection with RHS cross country coach Bruce Edwards.

Fernandez needed some community service to fulfill some of his senior project requirements and working with younger students in their PE classes seemed a natural fit.

"This is one area he can motivate and help people out," said coach Edwards.

His visit to OJHS was the first time he'd ever worked with younger kids, teaching them about running technique. Fernandez said that he looks forward to being able to do similar work at other schools that may be interested in having him visit.

"Everybody was into it. It was great seeing their smiles on their face and just running out there," said Fernandez about the students. "It was really fun, a good experience."

While Fernandez is an elite runner now and has his eye on the Olympics, he wasn't always a motivated runner and admitted to not realizing he had a gift for the sport.

Coach Edwards said that he and other people recognized Fernandez' gift, but knew that he didn't really like running as a freshman. Edwards didn't know if he'd be able to work with Fernandez initially. Fernandez was playing football, basketball, and was on the track team. He was planning to play soccer his sophomore year, but Edwards convinced him otherwise.

"My job was to develop a passion in him for running," said Edwards. "...I told him it could be his ticket to college."

After having not run over the summer, Fernandez competed for the cross country team his sophomore year. After only three months of training with the team that year, he won the state meet. His junior year he was second at the state meet, and this year he won the state meet by setting a course record of 14:24, beating the next runner by over a minute.

Edwards said that Fernandez came along at the right time in his coaching career. He said that he's learned from his coaching mistakes and believes that at this point in his career is the time that he's able to help Fernandez the most and Fernandez trusts that Edwards is looking out for Fernandez' best interests.

"It's been a good journey for both of us. We're real good friends," said Edwards.

Edwards said that when Fernandez got focused on the cross country running, his grades improved. He had learned discipline and organizational skills during his training.

For his future plans, Fernandez said that his next steps include having a good career in college both academically and with his running.

"It's going to be really hard," he said. "I've dreamed of going to the Olympics for a long time. I want to be the best American runner in the world. I'm not trying to be cocky, but those are my goals and nobody's going to stop me."

Right now, Fernandez is considering his options on where to go to college. The top five colleges in the nation for running programs have extended invitations to him and are offering scholarships.

"I want to get a good education," Fernandez said. "I want running to be my job, but have a backup in criminal justice or the nursing field."

"He has to improve a lot (to go to the Olympics) and be in a (college) program with a coach who knows what it takes ... That's part of the evaluation process," said Edwards. "He's in a unique situation. They all want him. He gets to choose."