Espinoza Finds Her Passion on the Track and the Paths
While she entered her freshman year having never running competitively, Juliana Espinoza finished her sophomore year as a member of the girls’ cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track teams at East Haven High School. Now a senior, Juliana has only grown stronger as a runner, while gaining a new appreciation for the sport along the way.
As a freshman, Juliana was encouraged to join the Yellowjackets’ indoor track team by a few of her friends. Juliana’s mother Guadalupe was a marathon runner and felt that it was a great idea when Juliana told her she was going to try out track. Still, as eager as she was to start running, Juliana quickly saw how challenging high school track and field can be.
After enduring some grueling conditioning sessions with the indoor track team, Juliana wasn’t sure if she would be able to succeed. However, despite being new to the sport and going up against older athletes, Juliana decided to tough it out and started seeing progress.
“When I first began conditioning, I thought, ‘Oh no, I can’t do this.’ I was overwhelmed with all the running,” says Juliana. “Before every race, I was super nervous, I was super scared. I was the only girl on the distance team. But I kind of got the hang of it. I was competing against senior girls, but I was able to keep up with them. I felt like I did well for never doing this sport before.”
Following a successful experience in indoor track, Juliana joined the Yellowjackets’ outdoor track team in her freshman season. When she became a sophomore, track coach Rusty Dunne encouraged her to compete in cross country. In two years, Juliana had become a member of three teams at East Haven and began to see the bigger picture of the sport.
“By joining outdoor track, I fell in love with competing and seeing all the different events. People think it’s just running, when it really isn’t. There’s jumping and throwing. It was interesting. I didn’t know that when I first started.” Juliana says. “My indoor track coach told me to join cross country to help condition for the season. I decided to join.”
Signing up for cross country made sense for Juliana seeing as how she’s a long-distance runner with the Easties’ track and field teams. Juliana runs anywhere from the 800 to the 3,200 and often does several distance events in a given meet. While she might not have the front-line speed of a sprinter, once Juliana gets some distance under her spikes, she’s ready to race anyone.
“Distance is my thing. I know I’m not fast when I first start. I need at least 400 meters to increase my speed. I just keep my pace throughout the entire race,” says Juliana. “When I’m almost to my last lap, I just clap. I clap for myself and tell myself, ‘Keep going. You got this.’”
By competing for three different teams, Juliana has had the opportunity to take part in numerous postseason meets. Last spring, Juliana finished fifth in the 3,200 when East Haven’s outdoor team took first place at the SCC West Sectional Championship. While the stakes are higher in the championships, Juliana makes sure to keep encouraging herself and reminding herself that she belongs out there.
“I just keep telling myself, ‘You got this, no matter what happens,’” Juliana says. “‘You know how to run. You’ve done this before. You’ve been doing this for two, three years now. You know how to keep your pace.’ I just encourage myself.”
Coach Dunne has seen Juliana become one of East Haven’s top distance runners throughout the past few years. Along with winning the West Sectional title, the Yellowjackets went 5-0 in dual meets during the outdoor season last spring. Dunne knows that neither of those things would have been possible without Juliana’s performances.
“Juliana is a pleasure to coach. If she doesn’t finish fifth in the 3,200 meters at the SCC West Championships last spring, we don’t win the title,” says Dunne. “Juliana does whatever is asked, running the 800, 1,600, and the 3,200 all in the same dual meet. We were 5-0 last spring and, without her points in those events, it doesn’t happen.”
As a runner, Juliana has found an activity that helps her cope and get away from any daily struggles. As a member of the Yellowjackets, Juliana has found a team that shares that passion and a group of teammates with whom she will be running side by side as friends long after they graduate.
“Running for me is a coping thing. I love running. Every time I feel down. I go on a run. It just gets my mind off of things when things get hard. It’s something that I fell in love with. I could run forever,” Juliana says. “I’m proud to be a runner for East Haven. I will always be there for the team. We’re all very good athletes, and we know how to work together. Each of us have our own events, but we’re always there, helping each other.”