By Keith Lair, Staff Writer
PASADENA – What a difference one year makes.
La Salle High School’s Daniel De La Torre is now lining up against the state’s elite runners. Last year, that scenario would’ve been unimaginable.
“Last year I saw (Loyola’s) Elias (Geydon), (Arcadia’s) Ammar (Moussa) and (South Pasadena’s) Sam (Pons) and I told myself I want to be elite just like them,” the junior said. “What I realized was that when you run a race, no matter who you are racing, they’re just human. They are just like you. If you work hard enough, you can beat them.”
De La Torre is currently the top-ranked runner in the CIF-Southern Section’s Division 4 heading into this weekend’s 64th annual Mt. SAC Invitational.
In the Clovis Invitational two weeks ago, De La Torre lined up against this year’s elite class for the first time, on the same 3-mile Woodward Park course that will be used in November’s CIF State meet. That meant facing Buchanan’s C.J. Albertson and Knight’s Bryan Guijarro.
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“I had never been in an elite race like that,” he recalled. “In the beginning, I was in the head pack. I thought, `What am I doing? Am I going to die out? Do I belong with this group?’ My mentality screwed me up.”
He finished 10th in 15 minutes, 37 seconds. That was an improvement of 1:33 from when he last ran on the course, going 17:10 in last year’s meet. It was the second-fastest time for a junior at the meet, and the best improvement for any athlete who competed in the race last year.
It was the fastest time a La Salle runner has ever run at Woodward Park, eclipsing the 15:40 that Austin Williams ran in 2008.
De La Torre ran a 16:08 on the course in the CIF State meet six weeks later en route to a 15th-place finish.
“Compared to his time last year, we could not ask for anything more,” La Salle coach Fred Riley said. “He is definitely ahead of where we thought he would be. We never predicted this.”
De La Torre ascended to the top of the informal individual rankings despite missing the Del Rey League cluster meet last week with a hip problem. He said he’s fine now, and began working out again last Friday.
It’s truly an improbable rise to the top of the heap, and De La Torre can thank Swim Pasadena coach Terry Stoddard.
“We would run with medicine balls,” De La Torre recalled. “Every time, I would beat everyone. I never thought I was a runner – I didn’t feel very fast – but that was the first clue.”
De La Torre, 16, was destined to swim for the Lancers – he was part of the program at Pasadena City College for eight years – but then he was on the track in a freshman physical education class. La Salle football coach Antoine Peterson suggested he compete on the track team.
“To do something for eight years and give it up, that’s a big risk,” De La Torre said. “I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.”
He developed shin splints nearly right away and didn’t compete that year, making last year, his sophomore season, the first time he competed in running events. He suffered shin splints again during the track season and missed most of that season, too.
But then he got onto the running regime.
“I was new to it, so in a way I was a novice runner,” he said of last year’s cross country season.
But boy, did he excel. The Alhambra resident had the school’s ninth-fastest time at Mt. SAC in the CIF-SS preliminary meet (16:18), then finished sixth in the CIF-SS Division 4 finals on Mt. SAC’s rain course despite making a wrong turn. That led to the 15th-place finish at state.
He said he worked out every day this past summer, running, swimming, cycling, weightlifting, doing yoga and watching his diet.
“For me, running is not a sport,” he said, “it is a way of life. It is blood, sweat and tears. I poured everything I could into running over the summer.
“Last year I learned a lot about myself. I learned at times that I would fail, times I would succeed. I use my failures for success. I use my failures to give me strength, to persevere, to work hard and strength to win.”
He began this season winning the Fastback Shootout on the 2-mile Mt. SAC course, then won his junior race in the Mt. Carmel Invitational by 11 seconds. It was the eighth-fastest time of the day.
“He lives and sleeps this,” Riley said. “Whatever it takes to get better, he does it.”
His hard work, De La Torre predicts, will earn him a return berth in the CIF-SS and state meets.
“It is a little surprising, but what you put in, you get out,” he said. “I put in blood, sweat and tears and I get out good results.”