Star youth runners in Central Texas always make sure no one is left behind

Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 6:05 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Members of a local junior high cross-country team put their team practices into purpose after winning their competitions only to jog back and cheer on every last runner to the finish line.

Jessika Valdez and Melina Espinoza, both 8th graders at H.G. Isbill Junior High in McGregor, participated Saturday in the annual McGregor Founder’s Day 5K. The girls took home the gold and silver medals in their age divisions on the 3.2-mile run, but instead of leaving the race when they finished, they jogged back on the course to cheer on racers.

The girls weren’t doing it to be seen. They were far from the crowded finish line as they stood on corners alone or walked up and down 6th street clapping and offering encouraging words to those running or walking.

“You made it all this way, you can finish,” they were heard saying. “You can finish. You got this!”

Jessika and Melina didn’t just encourage a runner or two. They kept cheering until the last competitor passed and said they did it because it was the right thing to do.

“We did it because it was good leadership and we always have to cheer on others that who are behind each other,” Jessika said. “We stayed out there the whole time. After we finished, we just ran over there and cheered other people on.”

Jessika Valdez and Melina Espinoza
Jessika Valdez and Melina Espinoza(Courtesy Photos)

Melina, who has been a distance runner for four years, said she enjoys the sport so much she wants to spread that love to others, and there is no better way to do that than by encouraging them in a race.

“I feel like we need some positive energy in the world, and I love running so I want to spread that positive energy to the younger generations,” Melina said.

Jason Taylor is the Girls’ Athletic Coordinator at McGregor High School and head cross country coach. He’s coached Jessika and Melina, who he says are some of his best runners, for years, and says what they did on Saturday came as no surprise.

“That’s our culture. That’s what we do,” Taylor said. “We tell them, ‘when you cross the finish line, you’re not done until everyone else is done.’”

Jessika finished first place in her age division with a time of 22:03. Melina came in second place just behind Jessika with a time of 22:10.

Both girls say they’re happy that their act of kindness went a long way.

“I feel like if you cheer someone on it gives them, it gives them more, like, like you feel more alive to do the thing you’re doing,” Melina said. “And it gives you more pride and joy to do it.”