QUITO – “It’s a very long journey” was the warning that Carmen Toaquiza’s coach gave her when, after winning the 2017 South American Cross-Country Championships in Santiago, she decided to compete for the Pan American version held this February 17 in San Salvador.
The coach wasn’t just talking about the long-distance run, but also the training the sport would demand of her. But thanks to a combination of anger, love and fight, and despite what little she had in the way of support, Toaquiza one year later is the continental champion.
“I had to leave home two months before the competition...I had to travel two hours and the ticket was expensive. I had to spend my own money and I didn’t have much, and I had to stay at the home of my trainer doing double training sessions” for the Pan American cross-country run, Toaquiza, 22, said in an interview with EFE.
The runner lives on a highland plateau near Cotopaxi volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes, mountains that forged the energy and endurance that have taken her to the top in a number of international cross-country competitions.
“I finished school and was studying to be a nurse, but I couldn’t pay for my studies and had to quit,” the athlete said, adding that ever since her school days she showed a talent for cross-country running.
“At first my family supported me, but then we weren’t doing well economically so they kind of stopped encouraging me. Later I had to quit my nursing studies for the lack of money,” she said.
The 2017 South American Cross-Country Championships in Chile was her first big win, beating the Peruvian athletes who were the favorites. However, when she went on to the Pan American Cross-Country Championships in El Salvador, she had a certain fear of competing against the American, Canadian and Mexican runners, but said her love for family and country pushed her to victory.
While Toaquiza looks forward to her “big goal,” the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, she trains to take part in several competitions, perhaps the first being the World Half-Marathon Championships on March 24 in Valencia, Spain, though she’s not convinced she’ll get there on time due to her needed recovery from the Pan American run and her highly detailed training schedule.
While noting the importance of sports in her life, the athlete said that her priority is to resume her studies.
For Toaquiza, the lack of support and the complications of her life – she travels every day some 60 kilometers (37 miles) between her home town of Romerillos and Quito – are not just obstacles but challenges to be overcome, and overcoming challenges is what her sport is all about.
“This sport is tough, but it’s beautiful to represent Ecuador,” she said.