LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Johnny Sanchez is a good son. His parents, Juan and Obdulia, should be proud.
He’s the first in his family to attend college, and he’s doing it in very large part for his parents. They supported him for all those years, and while it was unconditional, it’s now time to pay them back.
“As a kid, I always wanted to attend college and get an education,” Sanchez said. “Seeing where my parents came from and knowing the kind of jobs they had, I wanted to be successful and be able to provide for them in the future. That’s a goal I’ve always had since I was a kid.”
Having graduated from Chico State last summer, he’s now going after his teaching certificate in physical education. Sanchez continues to star on the Wildcats’ cross country team and is student teaching across the street from campus at Chico High School. There’s certainly a lot on his plate.
As busy as he is, though, it has been worse. There were semesters where he carried as many as 18 and 21 units, and with cross country on top of that, his days were full and then some.
“I knew it was going to be a challenge, but I just went for it,” he said. “I figured that I could do it. It was a workload.”
A typical day for Sanchez included waking up around six in the morning, going to morning practice, coming back, showering and going straight to classes that lasted until just before a three-hour practice session that began at 2 p.m. After that, it was on to homework. It was a schedule that he called “rough, definitely.”
He isn’t just a roster filler on an also-ran squad, either. Sanchez finished fourth at the west regional championships on Nov. 22 to become just the fifth student-athlete in school history to score four All-West Region awards. On Saturday at the NCAA Division II national championships, he’s got a shot to become the school’s fourth three-time All-American.
Chico State won its third consecutive west region championship, and 11th in the past 13 years. That put them in the NCAA Division II national championships for the 16th year in a row.
“As a team, I just want to get back on the podium,” Sanchez said. “That would mean more than anything, to get back on the podium and bring back some hardware. That’s pretty much the goal we had.”
Anthony Costales was at first a teammate of Sanchez’s at Chico State, and now he’s an assistant coach. Costales has been a guiding force throughout, someone to lean on when things got tough. Their friendship extended beyond running and into the classroom.
“He was two or three years older than me,” Sanchez said. “We took a few classes together at some point. He was always just giving me advice about the major and about the classes he had already taken. He was always giving me advice, even to this day, just mentoring me and helping me out.”
Now that Sanchez is one of the team’s grizzled veterans himself, it’s a mentoring that he tries to instill to its younger runners.
“I just try to give them advice, to work hard and be consistent at what they do to be successful,” Sanchez said. “The incoming freshmen, I always try to give them a heads up so that they know pretty much what to expect. You just kind of help them with anything they need.”
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If these mentoring relationships sound familiar, they should. It’s the very same thing he’s seen in his parents his entire life, and he wants to somehow repay that in some small way.
“My dad always supported me as a teen, always gave me advice, just the hard worker that he is,” said Sanchez, who had two older brothers and two younger sisters. “He always tried to provide us with everything. He always told us to stay in school and work hard so we would not have to work a job like he did.
“It would mean the world to me, knowing how hard my parents worked for me and how much they’ve been through. It would be a satisfying feeling to be able to provide for them and assist them in life.”