Arely Marquez - 04/18/07

Arely Marquez had put in the time. The Yerba Buena senior logged more than 400 miles in three months - wearing out a pair of running shoes - to prepare for the Central Coast Section cross-country championships.

Now she wanted the payoff.

But 200 meters into the November race, Marquez tripped over a fallen runner, slammed into the ground and planted her face into the dirt at Salinas' Toro Park.

She dusted herself off and went back to work, ignoring the road rash and methodically passing about 30 runners over the next three miles. Marquez equaled her course-best time of 19 minutes, 9 seconds to finish 12th - one spot away from a third consecutive berth at state.

The heart she showed that day surprised no one.

Marquez, 17, battled tuberculosis her sophomore season, and nine months later developed asthma that still plagues her. But the native of Sinaloa, Mexico, kept a steady focus on sports, school and family, earning a scholarship to run cross-country at San Jose State.

"Arely is a true inspiration, with all the things she has gone through to succeed," Coach Richard Ponce said of Marquez, whose family moved to the United States when she was 4. "She has missed some practice time because of her condition and family commitments, but she has kept her composure, remained competitive and earned opportunities for herself."

As a freshman, Marquez had a promising track season, winning the Blossom Valley Athletic League

1,600-meter title. But during cross-country the next fall, she tested positive for tuberculosis, a serious and sometimes-fatal respiratory ailment caused by bacteria. Marquez struggled with feeling weak and listless, her stamina sapped by diminishing lung capacity.

"I was used to going at it as hard as I could when I ran, and then I just couldn't breathe," she said. "It was scary."

Marquez recovered after nine months of medication but came down with a distance runner's nightmare - asthma. Doctors aren't sure if her conditions are related, but she had never experienced asthma before.

Through it all, she never considered quitting.

"I have a passion for running - I can get away by myself and relax," she said. "It takes my head away from my problems."

Marquez is the only distance runner on the girls track team, so she trains with the boys. Her perseverance has made her coaches proud.

"She can keep up with anyone mentally," track coach Jesus Pineda said, "And physically, she is the hardest worker I have ever coached."

Marquez is also a hard worker at home, a tidy two-bedroom apartment on San Jose's East Side where she lives with her parents and four siblings. Her youngest brother, Brian, is three weeks old.

"Next to her mother, Arely is the rock of the family," Ponce said. "They depend on her. For her, family comes first, followed by school and running."

Marquez's father, Francisco, works in construction six days a week. She also lives with brother Francisco, 18, a deaf student at Leigh High School; sister Tania, 13; and brother Jairo, 7. Sister Aydee, 21, lives in the same complex with her husband and child.

It's sometimes hectic living in such close quarters, but the family's strong bond keeps Marquez grounded.

"It is hard at times, but my family is very close," she said. "My mom is there for us all the time, and I do anything I can to help out."

Marquez has become adept at the family-school balancing act. A typical day begins at 6 a.m. when she wakes and helps her siblings get ready for school. After classes, she attends practice for two hours, then returns home to help with chores before starting homework, which she sometimes doesn't finish until after 11 p.m.

She missed a week of practice when her brother was born, taking care of her siblings, cleaning the house and preparing meals. But in her next meet, she ran a personal-best time in the 800.

With the scholarship for tuition at San Jose State, Marquez will become the first member of her family to attend college.

"I never thought Arely would be where she is today because of her running," Arely's mother, Refugio, said through an interpreter. "Without running, it would have been very difficult for her to attend college."

Her coaches think Marquez's best races are ahead of her. She recently beat her fastest 1,600 mark of 5:18, which she set as a freshman.

"I think she will get even better with a chance to concentrate more on her running," Pineda said. "She could end up being one of the top runners at San Jose State."