Although senior Valeska Muñoz joined the Mills cross-country team for the first time this semester, runners on the team say she has established an important role as a friend, a mentor, and a leader.
According to head coach Cindy Olavarri, Muñoz takes her role as a senior on the team seriously.
“She takes on a lot of responsibility without me even asking,” Olavarri said. “She treats the team like family.”
Recently, seven runners from the team, including Muñoz, qualified to attend a race in Salem, Ore. According to Olavarri, Muñoz helped to navigate while driving and led team warm-ups. Muñoz was also the second runner from the Mills team to finish, elevating their collective score.
Fellow runners Faye Gottlieb and Caroline Karimi have plenty of positive things to say about Muñoz. According to Gottlieb, who is a sophomore, Muñoz is always bright and ready to run at early morning practices, even when most of the team “looks like zombies.”
Karimi, a first-year, said Muñoz is inclusive of lower classmen, and knows how to get the team motivated.
“She’s a great leader for the team,” Gottlieb said. “Like really encouraging them to know their own limits, but challeng[ing] themselves at the same time”.
Muñoz has been running since third grade, and although she ran competitively in high shool, she originally hesitated to join the cross-country team at Mills. In the process of adjusting to college life and and balancing work and school, Muñoz said she never felt she had time for the team. But when senior year came around, Muñoz said, she decided she had to find a way to fit cross-country into her busy routine.
Olavarri urged her to join the team when she saw Muñoz running around the track, Muñoz said.
“She’s a beautiful runner,” said Olavarri. “She has great running technique and trains extremely hard.”
After being prompted by Olavarri, Muñoz said she agreed to join the team, and although it is a challenge at times, Muñoz is glad to be running.
“This sport is about stamina,” Muñoz said. “It tests whether you have the endurance, and the motivation to run up hills in the blistering hot or in the cold rain. It tests whether you are intimidated by running the course twice. You have no ball to run for, so we run to show our mental strength.”
In addition to practicing six days a week with the cross-country team, Muñoz is on the pre-veterinarian medicine track at Mills and is majoring in Biology with an Ethnic Studies minor. Muñoz works five to six days a week at the Oakland Animal Hospital, and plans to become a veterinarian.
“This has definitely taught me about time management because, if you really want to do something you have to make time to do it and you have to divvy up the time for everything else,” Muñoz said. Running, she said, “is what I like to do, this is my passion, this is the reason I wake up in the morning.”