Cross Country Teammates Bryan Hayes, Cristobal Gutierrez
find Strength, Balance at La Verne
Most people view distance running as an individual pursuit, a competitive effort that bespeaks solitude and personal achievement. Yet according to University of La Verne sophomore Bryan Hayes, being part of the Leopards cross country team is an experience that goes against stereotypes.
“They’re one of the best families I could have ever asked for. We’re all great friends that can hang out anytime, even after the season ends,” said Hayes. “Cross Country holds us together, but it’s not the only reason. We all get along and I’ve never seen anyone get shunned or be discriminated against.”
Leopards Cross Country Coach Bryan George, in his first season at La Verne, guided the men’s team to a fifth place finish at the 2013 NCAA III West Region Championships.
As a sophomore, Hayes speaks about the men’s cross country team with an affinity that highlights the athletic program’s close-knit environment and the committed coaching by the team’s coach, Bryan George.
“As an athlete at La Verne, I have full confidence that my coach will get me ready for race day,” said Hayes. “He’s (Coach George) done everything possible to get me out there and do the best I can. On race day it falls to me.”
Both Hayes and senior Cristobal Gutierrez have found a balance between athletics and academics that is challenging, yet doable, and it shows in their campus involvement as well as in their athletic successes.
At the NCAA Division III West Regional Championships on Saturday, Nov. 16, Hayes completed the 8,000-meter course in 25 minutes, 27.13 seconds and placed 10th, while Gutierrez took 12th place in a personal-best time of 25:44.82. The entire men’s cross country team recorded a fifth-place finish.
“I’m really proud of the team, and our growth has been amazing,” said Hayes. “We showed everyone that you can’t forget about the run and excelled both individually and as a whole.”
Hayes finish qualified him to compete at the NCAA Division III National Championships on Saturday, Nov. 23, at Hanover College in Indiana.
The chance to compete on the national level is thrilling. But for Hayes, a member of La Verne’s Honors Program and Physics Club, it is one piece of his day-to-day schedule.
“There’s definitely a give and take to the whole thing,” he explained, “but in my mind academics are always in my primary sight. That’s the whole reason I’m in college.”
Intercollegiate athletics are an integral part of the overall college experience at La Verne, engaging the campus community and establishing a sense of spirit and pride while promoting a healthy lifestyle and fitness of mind and body.
“To be successful in distance running, there needs to be a high level of discipline and commitment, and I tell all the runners in the program that I want running to be a priority in their lives,” said Coach George. “Yet there has to be a balance and an understanding that running shouldn’t supersede their academics or their family life.”
La Verne senior Cristobal Gutierrez (left) and sophomore Bryan Hayes (right) finished 12th and 10th, respectively, at the 2013 NCAA III Men’s Cross Country West Region Championships.
No one understands this better than Gutierrez, who has faced and overcome many obstacles that have affected his cross country training and involvement in competitions.
He was hit by a drunk driver his freshman year, fractured his foot as a junior, and faced an Iliotibial (IT) Band injury from July to October 2013, where movement of the knee – and therefore running – became painful.
“His competiveness is really what carried him to do well at these last two meets,” said Coach George. “Many other runners that had been injured all year may have given up because they weren’t able to train, but Cris stuck with it physically, mentally and emotionally and surprised a lot of people.”
Despite his injury, Gutierrez finished in ninth at the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championships on Nov. 2 and competed in the regional championships two weeks later, where he placed 12th with a personal-best time. He narrowly missed an individual spot at the national meet with Hayes.
“What has really made my college experience what it is are the things I was involved in,” said Gutierrez. “Being involved and getting to know different people, like those on my team and in my fraternity, really gave me a reason why I chose to keep going.”
When Gutierrez is not running, he works and is involved in Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. Dedication to academics has also allowed him to graduate a semester early, and he plans to go to graduate school, where he plans to continue running.
According to George, the members of the men’s cross country team at La Verne have the kind of drive that coaches really appreciate. “All we have to do is point them in the right direction and they excel. They not only dedicate themselves at practice, but they are living the type of disciplined lifestyle that’s needed to be successful at the sport.”