Eagle Pass' Monica Rivera PRs After Losing Mom To Cancer

Monica Rivera competes in the 800m at a 2017 Area meet

At the biggest meet of her high school track and field career, Monica Rivera walks from the check-in tent, up the track, and straight to the starting line. She is competing in the most competitive field of runners in her career and at the highest level of competition in her life. A surge of nostalgia sets in as she looks in the stands and throughout the stadium at the Texas Relays crowd, thinking about the path to this point and the chain of recent events that led to this day.

From the outside looking in, her senior season was going as planned. Rivera ran a personal best 1600m time of 5:08.64. Cloud 9: a PR and a school record. Things couldn't have been any better -- at least that's how things seemed.

She was just one week ahead of her last district 29-6A meet and on her way to starting her hopeful road of finally qualifying for the state track and field meet before she graduates.

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However, as she finished the race that day in Austin and walked back down the track in front of a stadium full of screaming fans, Rivera had her mind and heart overtaken by different thoughts and feelings.

Unknown to others, things weren't as hopeful and going according to plan as it seemed. 

Just days earlier, Rivera's mother lost an eight-year fight to breast cancer that she had been battling the since 2010.

The Move And The Discovery

"We moved (from Mexico) to Eagle Pass in 2010 when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer," Rivera said. "She was getting treatment in San Antonio while my family and I stayed with some family members in Eagle Pass."

That's when the family made Eagle Pass their home.

"After a good five months, we eventually moved into our own house."

"When I feel like giving up my mother's presence will always be there to help me push myself. It will keep me motivated to always strive for better."

Monica Rivera, Eagle Pass senior

Rivera enjoyed the move to Eagle Pass. The transition to life in the US, new schools, and being introduced to running was a new and welcomed joy.

"Ever since I was little I loved coming to Eagle Pass," Rivera said. "So when I was told we were going to be living in here, I was really excited."

Despite her mom battling cancer, Rivera was able to completely make the transition and concentrate and focus on school, partly due to having no clue of her mother's sickness. 

"Back then I didn't know the reason why we were moving," she said. "It wasn't until my mom started getting really sick that I was told my mom had cancer."

As time went on, things began to settle in and life became what it was. The cancer was there and only treatment, prayer, and hope that it would one day go away was how they'd proceed. As for Rivera and running, that would not go away either. In fact, the love got stronger and that would also become a part of life for her.

Running Became A Part Of Life And A Way To Cope

Rivera put in the hard work, the early hours, countless miles, and interval workouts to become the best runner she possibly could. The sacrifice that runners and all student-athletes have to endure became a way of life for her.

Running also provided a sanctuary for Rivera. This is perhaps the reason she was able to gather enough strength to navigate such a devastating period in her young life. 

"Running has helped me temper my emotions a bit," Rivera said. "At worst, it gave me something to look forward to on a tough day."

Through running and athletic experiences, athletes can learn to successfully navigate the strong emotional currents that come with the ups and downs of training and competing, which can help when they enter times of crisis.

"Running gives me a sense of control after feeling like my world had crumbled around me," Rivera said. "It's a great place to just vent and release my stress and frustration."

"The more I run the stronger I become and the more I feel connected with my mom. Running gave me courage and it's helping me cope with my loss."

Monica Rivera, Eagle Pass senior

With Texas Relays scheduled and district quickly approaching, the dreaded happened and Rivera's life changed forever.

"Texas Relays was 11 days after my mom passed away," she said.

At the same time, Rivera maintained her running regimen: "I missed two days of running -- one interval workout and one recovery run to be exact."

In the midst of loss and tragedy, there was no second-guessing what had to be done.

"Not at all. I don't usually get to race with such fast competition like at Texas Relays so I knew it was going to be my time to run a PR," Rivera said. "The more I run the stronger I become and the more I feel connected with my mom. Running gave me courage and it's helping me cope with my loss."

Rivera had just run a 5:15.73 PR at the Alamo City Mile on March 15. Perhaps it was the connection she was feeling in Austin, because she went to Texas Relays for a PR and she got a big-time seven-second improvement for the new 5:08.64 PR she was searching for. 

Rivera compete at Texas Relays just 11 days after her mother passed away and ran a 5:08.64 PR

Last week, just a few days after returning home to Eagle Pass, Rivera competed in her last district 29-6A meet. She ran to a double win meet with the victories coming in both the 800m and the 1600m. This helped her to continue to advance her senior season and goal for the UIL state track and field meet.

Rivera also says that her mother's death is providing the inspiration she needs to keep running.

"[My mom's death] has helped me believe in myself and stay strong during workouts (and) races," she said. "I would always tell myself that if my mom fought breast cancer, liver tumor, and a brain tumor then I can run a good fast race. It has helped me believe that pain is temporary, that if my mom was a fighter I can be one, too." 

Monica Rivera will graduate this June and then continue her life, running, and academics at the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley.

"When I feel like giving up my mother's presence will always be there to help me push myself," she said. "It will keep me motivated to always strive for better." 

Perhaps that's something that will stick with Rivera forever.