Apex: Hustle and heart


Muthu Panchanatham

Rigo Gonzales (10) sets up in his ready stance at the start of the track. Rigo qualified for CCS as a freshman last year, after running three miles in 17 minutes and 22 seconds at the CCS qualifier meet.

by Muthu Panchanatham, Co-Sports Editor

A crowd forms at the end of the race, anticipating a close finish by the top competitors. As the runners come into view, they can be seen making a last ditch effort to pull ahead, exhaustion already set into their bones and muscles. One competitor stands out from the pack. Unlike the other runners, his face shows no signs of tiredness. While his competition staggers and stumbles through their pain, he sprints forward, practically gliding along the trail with his feet barely touching the ground. Eyes shining, Rigo Gonzales (10) bounds across the finish line with perfect from.

A vital member of the cross country, track and soccer teams, Rigo’s natural athletic ability is evident as he consistently exceeds the expectations of his teammates and coaches. Inspired by his brother Corey Gonzales (‘16), who won the cross country Central Coast Section (CCS) championship in his senior year, Rigo decided to focus his efforts on cross country in his freshman year, determined to train hard in an attempt to surpass his brother’s times.

“I love how rewarding it feels to get a good run in. The feeling when you push yourself to the point where you almost throw up. I actually like the pain, because then I know that I ran my hardest. It’s special to be able to try your best in a sport and succeed,” Rigo said.

Once the starter pistol fires at the beginning of every race, Rigo utilizes the skills he has worked on to distance himself from the other runners. His strategy of accelerating at the beginning of the race allows him to comfortably return to his normal speed near the front of the crowd. 

“My coach always tells me to start off fast for two reasons. First, you don’t want to get stuck in the middle or behind a bunch of people because that will set the tempo for your entire race,”  Rigo said.  “Also, if I start off fast, it can scare off my opponents. When I race, I just think about my form. Maintaining my knee drive and pumping my arms. I don’t think about who’s behind me or who’s in front of me.”

Confident in his own endurance, Rigo showcases his talent for maintaining a quick pace throughout the majority of the course without tiring. As a result, he is able to overtake competitors when they start to falter.

“What separates Rigo from other runners is his sense to perform at a high level while still making leadership and the community aspect of the sport his number one priority. His running style looks effortless and smooth like a long distance runner, yet his explosive speed is second to none,” Anna Weirich (12), Rigo’s teammate, said. “I’ve been lucky enough to train side by side with him for the past two years. He’s an amazing training partner who never fails to inspire and brighten the days of others.” 

Rigo’s strengths paid off in the CCS Qualifier as he was able to beat the time required to participate in the prestigious championship meet, running three miles in 17 minutes and 22 seconds. Despite his performance in the preliminaries, however, Rigo was unable to produce the results he desired in the CCS Championships.

“I didn’t perform as well as I wanted to at the CCS Championships. I ran around 20 seconds slower than whatever my time was previously. That was the last race we had,” Rigo said. “I was upset, but I was hoping that I would get back to my peak once the season started up again. When everything shut down, I just carried that anger and frustration all the way through quarantine. I ran all throughout summer to beat my time and do better.”

Even though he was disappointed, Rigo gained valuable insights from his performance and learned how to move on from discouraging results.

“In my first season, I was achieving personal records in every race. The CCS championships was the first race where I didn’t PR. At that moment, I learned that I’m not going to be able to run my best and PR in every race,” Rigo said. “That’s just something you have to learn to get over. Without that weight on my shoulders, there isn’t as much pressure and I can run more freely.”

Two years into his high school career, Rigo is still developing as both a teammate and a runner. He has emerged as a young leader of the cross country team during this year’s shortened season, inspiring his peers to reach new heights. 

“Rigo’s a good-natured person who wants to see the best in all of his teammates. He’s growing into becoming a motivator. I got to see a little of that this season,” Mia Purnell, Rigo’s cross country coach, said. “He’s starting to see that he can have an impact on how much his teammates are willing to put into the program to help build it up to be a well-recognized program across our league.” 

Although easygoing when not on the track, Rigo’s competitive fire is apparent from the moment he gets into his runner’s stance. The CCS meet made him take a step back and reflect, and Rigo returned this year with an improved mindset. As he continues along his journey, Rigo aims to eclipse his brother while still enjoying the sport that he loves.

“I’m not the most serious person. Normally, I’m chill and laid back, but when it comes to running, I take it super seriously. No messing around. [Running] is liberating. It’s fulfilling. It has a great team environment. There’s so much to love about running and not a lot to hate,” Rigo said.