Wildfire-impacted athletes doing their best at state track and field - Albuquerque Journal

Wildfire-impacted athletes doing their best at state track and field

Robertson’s Isiah Estrada comes out of the blocks at the start of the medley relay Friday at the state meet. (Mike Sandoval for the Albuquerque Journal)
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Flames licked the top of the mountain outside of Isiah Estrada’s house on the west side of Las Vegas near the San Miguel County fairgrounds as he packed his family’s belongings in preparation for an evacuation that seems to have no end in sight.

The Robertson senior and his family is camped out at his grandmother’s house in the center of town along with five dogs and a cat.

And now Estrada is in Albuquerque for the Class 1A-3A state track championships that conclude Saturday at the UNM Track and Soccer Complex.

“There was a lot of panic,” he said. “I was home alone that day so I was getting everybody’s clothes and everybody’s necessities. Soap, toothbrushes.”

Seeing the fire so close was unnerving, he said.

“I was scared mostly, but I was mainly trying to get whatever I could for everyone and how to get everyone situated and have all their stuff so no one complains.”

Estrada ran the opening leg of the medley relay, helping the Cardinals qualify for the finals.

Mora’s Mikayela Velarde has had to go to great inconveniences to get to practice in the wake of fires that have ravaged some parts of the state. (Mike Sandoval for the Albuquerque Journal)

Over at Mora, which has been closed for a week, junior hurdler Mikayela Velarde and her teammates faced extended travel times just to get to practice at West Las Vegas. “We weren’t able to have any track and where we would have it is at West,” she said. “It was hard because we would have to drive around to the interstate at Wagon Mound since we couldn’t go on 518 because of the fires. A lot people weren’t able to go to practice. I was able to go some of them.”

First on her ready list to take with her were her two cats.

“At first it was really bad,” Velarde said. “My whole family was panicked and we were ready to leave. We got everything ready to go. Our family pictures. My two cats. At first it was really scary because it was like evacuate, evacuate, evacuate. That’s what everyone had on their minds. Now, it’s not as bad. We know we’re not supposed to go back, but I don’t know.”

When the fire turned away from their home in Guadalupita, the family didn’t have to leave, but it was still odd times indeed.

“There’s no one in town anywhere,” Velarde said. “Sometimes when I drive, I’m used to seeing a whole bunch of people and then when I drive there’s no one there. You see the fire department and state police just blocking places off.”

There at least was no one blocking Maxwell’s Tristan Pierce’s path to victory in the 1A 1,600-meter dash. He set a record in 4 minutes, 42.61 seconds.

“I was really trying to pace myself more than anything with the other boys, see what they had in the tank,” Pierce said, “but on that last lap, I just had all the energy in the world and took off.”

His mark erased Melrose’s Jason Lee’s 4:49.28 from 2017.

“I could hear my competitors’ feet pattern; it was getting faster, so I knew they were going to start sprinting,” Pierce said. “I just felt that when that gun went off, I had to kick it in and hopefully get the state record.”

The other state record on the day went to long-jumper Omar Castillo of Animas, who went 21-feet, 1-inch, despite breaking his ankle playing basketball in January, then having only one regular season meet and the district meet before Friday.

“When I was starting, I was a little nervous,” he said. “I started off with 19s, but it kept getting better and better. Once I hit that first jump for the finals, all the butterflies were gone and I felt really good.”

After being forced to watch the rest of the basketball season in a boot, and miss most of the track season, this was a nice capper to the school year, he said.

Jal’s Rogelio Carreon, best known for being a 2A football player heading to Boise State, won the discus at 132-10.

“It’s nice,” he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to be in few state championships and I’ve lost those, and it’s heartbreaking. So to come back and get one of these (blue medals) around your neck, it feels really good.”

As for the fire lines, Robertson throws coach Brian Trujillo temporally escaped from a menagerie of three families, 28 chickens and nine dogs — not to mention the occasional firefighters that need a respite and some clean clothes — that are taking up temporary residence at his home.

“They haven’t been able to wash clothes for two weeks,” Trujillo said of the firefighters. “They’re running out of socks and underwear. So we have them at the house and we’re doing laundry for them, bundling them up and sending them back. Whatever we can do to help those guys fighting the fire out there. Some of them have been sleeping in a tent for the past two weeks on the floor so we give them a couch to lay on, kick off your shoes, we feed ‘em a hot meal, get them refreshed and get them ready to go back up.”

As for his athletes, this weekend is a needed diversion

“We’re doing the best we can,” Trujillo said. “We get them out here and it gives them a little bit of peace of mind to be out here even though their families are at home. This gives them a little less stress. We’ve got them in a hotel, feeding them, letting them do what they need to do to be kids. That’s the hardest part, letting them be kids nowadays. After the pandemic where they were locked up, and now we have them locked up with the fire. But these kids are troupers. They really are.”

RESULTS: Click here for live updates from the NMAA from the Class 1A/3A championships.

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