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Column: The accidental track star of North Hills Monroe

Monroe junior discovers future in running

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Carlos Martin Del Campo and his track coach at North Hills Monroe, Leo Hernandez, will probably debate, argue and squabble until each has gray hair or no hair at all over whether Martin Del Campo had soccer ability.

“I’ve seen him play,” Hernandez said. “He wasn’t that good.”

“Not true,” is Martin Del Campo’s reply.

The facts are clear. Martin Del Campo became the accidental cross-country and track standout at Monroe when he was cut from the soccer team as a freshman. The speed that had been developed from playing years of soccer transferred perfectly into the running world.

Last season as a sophomore, Martin Del Campo finished second at the City Section championships in the 800, then made it to the state championships with a personal best time of 1 minute 54.37 seconds in the preliminaries before finishing in 11th place.

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Now big plans are being made. Hernandez thinks Martin Del Campo has the talent to be the best runner in Monroe history, break 1:50 in the 800 and challenge the City Section 1,600-meter record of 4:09.9 set by Roman Gomez of Belmont in 1984.

At 5 feet 11, 165 pounds, Martin Del Campo is working on using his closer’s speed to succeed as a miler. He’s building up his strength and endurance, and he’s accepting the responsibilities that come when people begin to have high expectations for each performance.

“I feel when you have other people watching you, you need to show them where you’ve come from, your work ethic and how you represent everyone on your team,” he said.

Hernandez has been coaching at Monroe for 16 years. Every year when school begins, he makes an announcement in physical education classes asking students whether they want to try out for the various sports teams.

When Hernandez sought students interested in cross-country in September 2013, Martin Del Campo didn’t budge. “I thought I was going to be a soccer player who made it big,” he said.

Luckily, another P.E. teacher who knew Martin Del Campo from middle school and had seen him run laps pointed him out to Hernandez a few days later, and the rest is history.

“When I didn’t make it, I put all my focus in cross-country,” he said. “That’s how I became the accidental cross-country runner.”

Even his father, a big soccer fan, has become enthralled with his running success. And Martin Del Campo has become passionate in his training, running more than 25 miles a week and running up and down hills in Granada Hills on Sundays.

While the 800 was his best event last year, he wants to become a miler.

“I think I’m a miler,” he said. “But because I have a faster time in the 800, they doubt me. I think I can run faster.”

Martin Del Campo will face strong competition in the City Section from cross-country champion Paul Luevano of Venice. Luevano ran the 1,600 at last week’s Redondo Invitational in 4:13.67.

“The mile is one of the hardest competitions,” Martin Del Campo said. “It’s no joke. It’s a battle zone.”

And yet, he’s going full speed ahead, testing his mental and physical limits and determined to make running the sport he can master.

“Everyone knows I wasn’t even supposed to run,” he said. “I found out I was pretty good at running.”

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATSondheimer


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