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Defying Hardships, Herrera Claims Berth in State Meet

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Following the ups and downs of Eliazar Herrera’s running career is like monitoring the stock market.

There have been upswings, but too often there have been setbacks in the form of injuries. Additionally, the Hoover High distance runner has had to deal with the death of his brother in an automobile accident last month.

But the UCLA-bound senior has gone on to earn a berth in the state track and field championships Saturday night at Cerritos College.

Herrera placed third in the 3,200 meters in 9 minutes 0.29 seconds at the Masters Meet last Friday night and clipped more than six seconds off his previous best of 9:06.43.

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“I was so nervous before the Masters Meet that my palms were sweating,” Herrera said. “I was afraid that I wouldn’t qualify and there was just so much going through my mind, but I felt great after achieving a personal record. From the beginning of the season, my goal was just to break 9:20.”

As a freshman in 1986, Herrera advanced to the 4-A Division 3,200 preliminaries in which he ran 9:42.33.

The following season, Herrera improved to 9:31.34, but the first of a series of nagging injuries that affected his left side surfaced.

“You name it, he’s had it,” Hoover Coach Greg Switzer said of the 5-foot-8, 122-pound Herrera. “Eliazar was injured so much during his junior year that he wouldn’t be able to train and would just run on race days. There would be an injury that would keep him out for three weeks and then after that another one would come along that would sideline him again.

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“It was just frustrating.”

Herrera failed to improve upon his sophomore times. Injuries began to affect him mentally as well as physically as a junior.

“I had shin splints for a while and then I ignored it and I had to take a month off,” Herrera said. “Then I aggravated my groin. Each time I had to stop training. Every time I raced I had no endurance background and I always ended up exhausted and showed no improvement. I was afraid to push myself in practice for fear of getting hurt.”

Last summer, the source of Herrera’s injuries was diagnosed as a congenital problem--a misaligned vertebra. The problem was corrected by a chiropractor. Improvement quickly followed.

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“My hip was tilted and it felt that one leg was shorter than the other,” Herrera said. “After they re-arranged my vertebrae, I was eventually able to train without any problems before cross-country.”

Herrera placed third in the 4-A cross-country championships and 11th in the Kinney national championships.

But a new injury surfaced and sidelined Herrera this spring. After winning the 3,000 meters in 8:43.53 at the Northridge-Alemany Relays in March, Herrera felt a twinge in his left calf while warming down.

“It was just a freak thing,” Herrera said.

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The injury became severe enough to halt his running, but Switzer instituted pool workouts to help maintain Herrera’s aerobic conditioning. It worked.

Herrera set a lifetime-best of 9:08.45 to place seventh in the 3,200 at the Arcadia Invitational.

“I didn’t expect to do anything at the Arcadia race,” Herrera said. “I kept telling the coach that I wasn’t even ready to run and couldn’t race. He kind of got mad and told me to just to stop joking around and just concentrate on running.”

However, a week later there was tragedy.

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Herrera’s brother Pablo, 20, who competed at Hoover and was running for Glendale College, died when his car skidded off a wet freeway embankment.

“Although Eliazar is very quiet and doesn’t show it, the accident pained him very much,” Switzer said. “We discussed it and I think that in the eyes of a coach, the end result was that he grew more quickly into a man. Pablo was concerned for him and wanted him to excel despite his injuries. I think it served to potentially motivate him.”

Said Herrera, the fourth of nine children, who is trying to become the first in his family to continue an education at a four-year university: “We were very close. I went to all his races that didn’t coincide with mine. I dedicated my running to him. He liked running very much and if he were alive, he wouldn’t want me to quit.”

Herrera won the Pacific League 3,200-meter title two weeks later and went on to eclipse his Arcadia mark at the 4-A championships, placing second in 9:06.43, and third in the Masters Meet.

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Herrera’s recent improvements haven’t been surprising to Switzer.

“I was expecting a breakthrough after all these seasons of injury and self-doubt,” Switzer said. “It was satisfying to see him improve dramatically. This is really his first full year of running and he has put in more than 50 miles a week; before that, about the absolute most he did was about 20 miles a week.

“He has an incredible amount of endurance and he’s going to excel at the long distances in college.”


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