UC Merced's cross country team takes flight

MERCED -- Rolando Jiménez feels like the entire weight of México will ride on his shoulders this spring when the Golden Bobcats' inaugural cross country team takes flight at UC Merced.

Jiménez, a 2010 graduate of Farmersville High School, is one of 19 men and women who are trying to make the the Bobcats' cross country team, who will compete in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) this fall.

The Golden Bobcats will introduce four sports this fall: Men's and women's cross country, women's volleyball and men's basketball.

In a recent conversation with Jiménez, 17, just minutes before a 10-mile workout off campus in preparation for the Bobcats' first competition against Stanford University on Sept. 3, he talked about all of his family's accomplishments.

"When we first got here, there was a lot of people who discriminated against immigrants because we didn't really know the language," said Jiménez, a Business Management major.

"But, we have actually achieved quite a bit, all of us as a family. Coming from nothing to where we are now."

His parents -- Guadalupe and Teresa Jiménez -- brought the family to the United States, when Rolando was in elementary school.

They encouraged education and hard workd throughout all of the children's endeavors, no matter what they would eventually do.

"It was my parents who raised us right, and now, we're all going to college. We were all born in México, in Michoacán," he adds.

"I was a third-grader when we got here. I didn't know any English. I was really shy. I didn't ask any questions, I didn't even ask for help. Even through junior high and high school, I was still not too talkative."

Rolando says he broke through the shy behavior was in part because it was time to "growing up" and leave home.

"I know I'm one of the few athletes to actually move on from high school and compete in college," he says.

His older sister, Marisol, a 20-year-old political science junior at UC Berkeley, was first to leave home.

"She got me started into running. She did cross country and track. Now I tell my younger brother and sister that they really need to go to school, and that's the only way to succeed. They're both pretty athletic: My little sister is really into basketball, volleyball and softball," he said. "And then my younger brother is also a runner."

Rolando says the hardest part of the move to the United States from México was the language barrier, and the anti-immigrant sentiment that comes with it.

He's a strong supporter of the DREAM Act.

"I think it would have done good. It's just that they had too much stuff in it. If they would have kept it to just students, and students only, it would have done a lot better. We're not bad people. We're here to succeed and help the country," he said.

Serious talk about developing teams has been in the works at UC Merced since 2009.

On tap as opponents for UC Merced's various sports are Bethany University, Mills College, Holy Names University, Menlo College, Pacific Union College, California Maritime Academy, Simpson University and William Jessup University in the Cal Pac Conference.

"I'm really excited that I came to Merced. I had a choice of either running for Merced or for Fresno Pacific (University)," said Rolando.

"I chose Merced because it's a UC, and they have a better business management program. I really like it here."

Alexandria Curtis could lead UC Merced's women's cross country team.

Curtis, a sophomore, comes from San Jose, where she spent her final year on her high school's cross country team.

"I did volleyball in high school, then my mom put me in cross country my senior year," said Curtis. "because I had too much time on my hands. And I really liked it. I couldn't stop running."

Curtis, a Literatures and Cultures major (equivalent to an English major), will also represent the Golden Bobcats' on the women's inaugural volleyball team.

"I have volleyball practice earlier. I run in the morning too, and then go to volleball practices at night," said Curtis.

Curtis understands competing in the two-overlapping seasons will mean making a sacrifice.

She participated in the intramural sports teams at UC Merced last year.

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