It’s pretty easy to pick out Octavio Valenzuela in a race.
He’s the one with the sunglasses on, even when it isn’t a particularly sunny day.
The Payson High sophomore cross country runner wears the shades because he is legally blind and his eyes are sensitive to the sun because of the aniridia he was born with, which is a congenial defect of the iris.
But it hasn’t stopped him from being a big part of the Longhorns team.
“He’s a first-year runner but he’s running real well right now,” said Payson coach Jonathan Ball. “So I think it’s pretty cool that he’s even out here and running, too. It’s a good thing.”
He has 20/200 vision, meaning he sees much better with one eye than the other. The condition makes life challenging for the 16-year-old.
“I can see like 20 feet in front of me,” he said. “When it gets farther away it gets blurry to me and I can’t see it.”
He says he’d like to play soccer, but doesn’t because of his limited vision.
But running is something he figured he could give a try. So he went out for the track team as a freshman last spring.
“I was in the mile and sometimes the two-mile,” he said. “I won a medal for third place in the mile at our freshman/sophomore meet.”
He finished that race in 5 minutes and 30 seconds. He said earning the medal reinforced that the training he was doing was paying off.
“I felt really good afterwards,” Valenzuela said. “I was really proud of myself for going out there and getting it.”
He’d like to better his time next spring.
“My goal is to improve on my time in the mile and possibly get another medal,” Valenzuela said.
The success he enjoyed on the track, as well as the encouragement from Ball and his friend and classmate, Alonzo Cohen, led him to go out for the cross country team.
“When he took third in the freshman/sophomore meet, I was like, ‘Oh, you’ve got to run cross country with us,’” Ball said.
Valenzuela has made great strides in his running this fall. He’s cut his time from 23 minutes in his first race to 19:51 in a top-30 finish in the Four Corners Invitational at Buffalo Park in Flagstaff on Sept. 21.
“I was surprised by (the improvement),” he said. “The training and pushing myself to go for it (are the reasons I’ve improved).”
Valenzuela then finished in the top-third in the field (58th) at the Chandler Valley Christian Invitational on Sept. 25.
His teammates have been impressed with Valenzuela’s dedication.
“I think it’s truly inspiring that he keeps going and works as hard as all of us,” said junior Erin Huffman. “He’s an incredible athlete and has come really far this season. It’s his first year and he’s really good. The fact that he can’t see well could be used as an excuse to hold back, but he doesn’t. He keeps going.”
Valenzuela wants to keep cutting his time. Continuing on through tiring runs with the goal of improving is one of the biggest aspects of the sport his teammates and coach have helped him with.
“They’ve been a big help, giving me tips on how to keep going,” he said. “It’s tiring, but I like deal with it and just try to improve.”