Cristobal Gutierrez’s shoes are made for racing.
by Cindy Vallejo
photography by Nicole Ambrose
Some are colorful, some are plain. Some have La Verne pride colors. They have spikes; a few have treads. Cristobal Gutierrez has a passion for track and field and has plenty of shoes to prove it. Not only is Cristobal an amazing athlete at the University of La Verne, but he has an impressive collection of 54 speciality athletic shoes that match that passion. There are running shoes, flats and spikes. He has three pairs that he loves to wear, the first being a 1998 Nike Jasari brand that he uses for special occasions. The second, 1998 Nike Kennedys, future shoes linked to a promise. “I promised my former coach Atwood that if he and I ever made it to Nationals, I will wear this pair of shoes.” The third pair: 2010 Nike Mambas, and he wears these for steeplechase workouts. He buys his athletic shoes online through running stores and other websites.
Why the shoe eccentricity for this senior at the University of La Verne majoring in psychology? Cristobal says he was inspired by Coach Mike Atwood, former ULV cross country coach, to collect athletic shoes because he himself was a collector. His coach was a strong mentor and taught him the meaning behind the spikes and their importance. Following in the footsteps of his former coach, Cristobal focuses not on the color or the style of the athletic shoe, but on the size of the spike and the type of turf on which he will run. He organizes his impressive shoe collection in his closet. Most are in their original boxes. “Last year, I labeled each shoe box, but now I started to separate them by which ones I use on a regular basis, which ones are worn out, and if they are collector items.” Says Jovannie Slusher, his roommate, “Oh, my God, the labeling of his shoes! He would put his shoes on the wall. Even though I didn’t understand it at first, I now respect it, and I see the passion he has for his shoes and the sport. His passion has increased since I met him, and it’s impressive.” This passion began in middle school with the mile run. He had strong motivation to improve his time. At Montclair High School, he joined the track and field team, edged on by a friend’s encouragement. It was good advice. He ended up being the fastest junior varsity runner on the team and was named the most valuable junior varsity runner. Running was enjoyable, and he was always improving. His varsity high school accolades mark his career: most improved runner, co-most valuable runner and varsity scholar-athlete. “In high school, the seniors were the ones who really inspired me and pushed me to keep going in cross-country; there was one person whom I looked up to as a runner, and that was Montclair runner Paul Gauci,” Cristobal says. Then came college. “What really sold me about La Verne was the cross-country program and the team unison, and La Verne’s peaceful atmosphere.”
His life has its rocky moments. In 2011, he was driving on Fairplex Avenue near the Coco Palms restaurant with a Montclair friend when bright headlights aimed straight at him. He swerved just in time for the driver to hit his side of the vehicle. The other driver was a woman driving drunk. The next day, Cristobal was scheduled to compete in an important race. “When I got hit by the drunk driver, the first thing I did was to call my coach, and I asked him whether I could still race. My legs were fine, and I didn’t want to miss out.” He competed and beat his previous best time. Then the back and chest pain hit him with a rush, and that race was his last in his freshman season. Intense physical therapy—reconditioning for internal trauma—followed for three months. He missed the remainder of his track season. Through it all, he supported his team. “When I was injured, I shadowed my coach and went every day and learned about coaching skills. That experience reassured my decision of becoming a coach.”
During track season, he set lofty cross-country goals to receive All Conference, All Region and a National qualifying bid. “I did not want to be looked at by my coaches that I was not capable, so I worked hard every day.” He came back strong. That 2011 cross country season, Cristobal received All Conference and All Region honors. He wore his bright Nike Forever 2 when he competed for the SCIAC All Conference and NCAA West All Region honors. “These shoes drain the water out if I happen to step in a puddle. It doesn’t allow the shoe to take in the weight of the water.”
Yet, his junior year brought more bad luck. His foot was fractured at a Mount Baldy running camp. “I didn’t realize the severity of the injury when it first occurred; I was out for about a month and a half.” He missed the remainder of his cross-country season but recovered to compete in track.
Cristobal currently holds the La Verne school record in the 3,000 meter steeplechase: 9:31.98, and the distance medley relay along with teammates AJ Licon, Abraham Perez and Michael Sacoto: 10:35.8. For a year, he held the school record in the 5K at 15:31 until teammate Brian Hayes bested his record this season. “Cristobal is awesome. His winning All Region shows that he has leadership and the talent, and it is not only great to see him succeed as a teammate, but as a friend as well,” says Licon, a movement and sport science major.
As for Cristobal, he just keeps focusing on his goals. “It makes my achievements much better; the injuries kept me grounded and motivated me to work harder. When success happens, it just makes it much more sweeter, and it’s cool.” As inspiration to always do better, he writes down his goals on a white board and also on his room ceiling. Favorite inspirational running quotes are posted in his room. Robert Frost is his favorite: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep and miles to go before I sleep.” His interpretation: “This quote is a reminder for me to get out and go. My team holds each other accountable, and it affects the team when one is not doing well; it is a promise to yourself and your teammates to keep running.” His favorite self quote: “That is who Cristobal is. Only his quotes and goals go on the wall, not his accolades.“ “Most athletes would place their accomplishments on the wall, but I do not because I am constantly thinking ahead toward my goals, and hanging past achievements on the wall would only deter me from accomplishing these new goals.” He studies videos to improve his running skills. He also participates in running related websites such as tracktalk.net. “He is a talented runner and very passionate about the sport. He has much knowledge, is a motivated runner and leads by example,” Ted Breslow, teammate, and biology major, says.
One goal was to change the La Verne running program into a champion, along with what he calls the “top five”: AJ Licon, Alex Forbess, Matt Sustayta and Sean Kusick. It was a lofty goal, and like so many others, it was realized. In 2010, the cross-country team ranked top 10 within the Division III Western Region. In 2012, it was a national contender. “The track program has been constantly improving, and I want to do anything I can for the program before I leave.” He says one of his biggest influences was Coach Atwood, who has since left La Verne. “He transformed the program and made us known. He had a quote which was, ‘Let’s get the diamonds in the rough.’ He wanted guys who aren’t normally chosen and then wanted to develop them. In cross-country, I have a bond with the top five in winning our first national qualifying bid and All-Academic team recognized by the NCAA.”
For now, there is a goal on the ceiling that Cristobal knows he can check off: He made Nationals in the steeplechase and wore the Nike Mamba 2. In cross-country, he wants to quality for Nationals individually and as a team. He wants his team to place top 20, and he wants to receive All American. For this goal, he has just the right shoes to do it: the Nike Forever XC 2. And before you know it, he is out the door, running in pursuit of his goals.