Gomez keeps with the front pack as he runs to a 5th place finish at NXR.
In the past five years, of all the El Paso schools competing at the Nike South Regional Meet in the Woodlands, there has only been one individual qualifier for the Nike Cross National Meet in Portland, Oregon.
That athlete was El Paso Eastwood's Daniel Bernal. This year, that small list of NXN individual qualifiers has grown with the qualification of a young and talented runner from the outskirts of El Paso. That distinction goes to Edwin Gomez from San Elizario High School.
Gomez has been tearing up the running scene all season long with a near perfect season. His only races loses were the McNeil Invitational (11th) and at the 4A State Meet (2nd - PR 15:07.63).
Due to injuries that saw San Elizario lose their #2 runner. However, Gomez was still able to lead his team to a third place finish at state. Even though their 4-year streak of winning a State title was snapped, Gomez and some of his teammates still had their sights set onto bigger competition.
Making it out to NXR South is no easy task as San Elizario is well below the El Paso average or middle class. So, taking a big group of athletes was difficult according to Coach Morales.
In a last-minute decision, Coach Morales decided to take some of his athletes, including Gomez to the Nike South Regional Meet in The Woodlands, Texas.
"His top 5 finish in NXR South is a result of his hard work, dedication, and respect to this sport. He sacrificed a lot of things to allocate the proper time in and outside of the Cross Country."Cesar Morales - San Elizario head coach
Absent from a majority of his team and family Edwin entered the Championship race alone. Speaking to Gomez on the line, you could see that he was obviously nervous but you wouldn't have been able to guess it the way he ran.
Edwin ended up finishing 5th with a time of 15:45.38 becoming the second athlete out of El Paso to qualify individually to NXN as well as having the 2nd best finish out of any El Pasoan right behind Daniel Bernal.
That finish wasn't without a challenge. As the race progressed, Gomez found himself leading at points of the race.
The race progressively materialized and with a little over 1K to go, Gomez was in fifth place. That was the final qualifying position. All he had to do was maintain his position and hold on with the lead pack and he would accomplish a major career defining moment.
However, having to make a jump over a significant mud spot and a clearly bad spot of course conditions, Gomez had a snafu. He jumped, but still landed in mud and his footing was poor leading to him falling to all fours. That cost him his fifth position, as two other runners would eventually pass him.
Perhaps the thought of sacrificing so much just to get to the meet and so much having to happen for him to be in that moment registered to his mind. Gomez in no way gave up or threw in the towel. He gathered himself and and maintained contact with the fifth and sixth position runners. When turning the final straightaway towards the finish line, Gomez put on a ferocious kick as hundreds of fans and spectators lined the fences on both sides. He would eventually pass the two runners necessary to attain the fifth and final qualifying NXN position.
We got to catch up with Edwin at practice this week. Here is what he had to say about the whole process of qualifying and mentally preparing himself for NXN.
Edwin Gomez talks the process of qualifying to NXN.
TXMS - It's been a crazy couple of weeks for the city of El Paso. This was your first time taking any kids to NXR. What made you finally decide to take your kids to participate in one of the biggest meets in the nation?
Coach Morales - Learning about the magnitude of this race convinced us to travel to The Woodlands to participate. The priority was not with the intention to qualify to NXN but with the opportunity to race with greater competition.
TXMS - Edwin has seen a lot of success this season but on a much smaller scale. What do you attribute his top 5 finish to?
Coach Morales - His top 5 finish in NXR South is a result of his hard work, dedication, and respect to this sport. He sacrificed a lot of things to allocate the proper time in and outside of the Cross Country.
TXMS - You mentioned to me briefly about the economic state of your area and we would both agree that your High School are below the Middle-Class classification. How do you maintain such a successful program and how do you help athletes like Edwin come into their own and flourish the way he has?
Coach Morales - The key comes with the understanding that once you are on the starting line, everyone is the same, two legs, lungs and the same desired to finish faster than the rest. It does not make a difference your economic status.
TXMS - A lot of your teams' family and friends were noticeably absent from the meet due to the long trip and money requirements that it takes to get out that far into Texas. So, when Edwin went up to accept his 5th place award you could hear a roar of applause from the Eastwood team/family camp. What was it like for you as a coach to have that amount of support from a team that in season poses a great amount of challenge for your program?
Coach Morales - Due to the fact that our community (El Paso) is so far from the rest of big schools, our community supports each other specially when we are out of town. We have great respect for the running program at Eastwood High School and feel very honored to have their support. Coaches and athletes are great student athletes.
Coach Morales and Gomez discuss a tough track workout to prepare for NXN.
TXMS - For being only a Sophomore, Gomez undeniably has loads of talent. How do you think he will do at the biggest High School Cross Country stage of all, NXN?
Coach Morales - As far as a finishing place I do not know how he is going to do. What I do know is that he is going to leave everything in the course. Moreover, besides his place, the exposure and knowledge he is getting is going to help him become stronger for the future.
TXMS - Now that you've been able to get your feet wet in some bigger meets like McNeil and now NXR, what's on the future agenda for the 4-time State Champions?
Coach Morales - Being able to compete in these high-level competitions raises the level of responsibility to get our whole boys and girls' program to a more competitive level. The expectations are higher and consequently the commitment as well.
One thing is certain, Edwin has shown all season long that he deserves to be in the discussion of being a top runner in the state.