Angie Fuentes’s first cross country race with the Screamin’ Eagles already had enough obstacles. The three-mile course snakes through trees and fields, with a hill to greet runners who approach the finish line.
But Fuentes faced a challenge most runners didn’t. She couldn’t see the course.
“I was born blind,” Fuentes said.
With the help of a guide runner, Fuentes, a 17-year-old junior at Seneca Valley High School, finished the team’s first race of the season in 43 minutes and 22 seconds — beating eight others.
“I didn't think I was going to be the third girl from my school to get through the line, No. 10 of all the girls,” Fuentes said.
She said that initially she didn’t think she was ready for the race. The distance was intimidating. Fuentes had been training outside of practice, hoping to gain speed and strength, according to her mother.
Fuentes said it’s the reason she cried at the finish line.
“She almost made me cry because I’m so happy for her,” said cross country coach Zach Jackson.
“To be part of that feat, you really can’t frame it,” Jackson said. “It’s a natural high. It’s so overwhelming.”
Fuentes said she’s always loved to run. She started running when she was 8 and was living in El Salvador. But her first high school track meet was last week.
“I love the sensation,” Fuentes said. “To me, it's freedom. Nothing stops you from anything. You just go.”
Her mother, Karla Fuentes said she never wanted her daughter to grow up with boundaries. Still, she had considered putting Angie in a special school for blind children in Baltimore.
“I thought the other kids were going to look at her differently. As a mom, you’re always afraid,” Karla Fuentes said.
But her daughter didn’t want to go.
“She doesn’t want us to treat her like she’s different, so we never did,” Karla Fuentes said.
According to Angie, a typical cross-country practice involves a 1-mile warm up with stretches, then a distance run near the school or around Lake Seneca.
Patch caught up with Angie on the tail end of a practice Thursday. Freshman Asmaou Thiam served as her guide runner, jogging a couple of laps around the track.
“She beat me at the first meet,” Thiam said. “She’s a really good runner.”
In Maryland, high school athletics programs must provide students with disabilities equal opportunities to participate to in mainstream sports, as long as the accommodation doesn’t change the character of the sport or pose safety risks, according to Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association rules.
Guide runners were a common way blind runners compete in cross-country races, according to Becky Oakes, director of sports for the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Maryland high school athletics programs follow the rules set by National Federation of State High School Associations.
She said accommodations for students with disabilities were determined by state athletic associations on a case-by-case basis.
“Iowa had a cross-country runner participate in a wheelchair last season,” Oakes said.
As for what's next for Fuentes, she's preparing for the team’s next competition, a dual meet Wednesday against Kennedy High School. She said her personal goal is to complete all the races this season.
“Maybe take first place at one of them,” Fuentes said.