Eye on the prize: Cross-country runner leaning on experience to win district

RAYMONDVILLE — Elijah Perez laced up his running shoes, hopped on a big jet plane and took his skills to the land down under to put his cross-country running to the test.

The Raymondville cross-country standout is entering his senior year banking on his experience from the Down Under Cross County international sports championship tournament helping him do well in this year’s UIL competition.

In the 5.7K city race Perez competed against 3,035 runners from around the world.

He finished 53 over all and ended his run in 20.55 minutes.

“It was packed during the beginning of the race,” Perez said about the 5.7K. “And as I ran it got a lot more open.”

He said it was nice to see all the spectators cheering the runners on during the race.

Perez was invited last May to participate in the race. But he had to raise money to be there.

With the help of his father and the community Perez was able to raise money pay for the entrance and travel expenses.

They raised more than $3,000 to help him go to compete against world competition.

“It was actually a good experience,” Perez said. “There were a lot of nice people over there and I met a lot of new friends.”

He said the chance to compete against runners in Australia was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Perez also had the chance to hold a koala bear. He said it was one of the coolest things he experienced during his visit to the wildlife sanctuary in Australia.

Although Perez was only able to finish one of the two races he was invited to compete in, he still won medals for his participation.

He said he had been training hard to do well in the 5K race. He also had a goal of finishing the race with a personal best record.

Unfortunately, he was not able to finish the race because he injured his knee during a pre-workout practice before the July race.

He attempted to run the race but coaches recommended he not finish because he was not 100 percent.

“The Down Under tournament helped me realize I am a great runner,” Perez said. “And it helped me see there are more running opportunities after high school.”

Perez is still adjusting to the 15-hour time zone change, and he is three weeks into his rehabilitation of his knee.

He plans to have it back to full strength at this month’s Zapata South Texas Stampede Cross Country Meet on Aug. 26.

It will be his first test back after the summer.

He said it will also give him a chance to test the field to prepare for the district championship meet that is also scheduled in Zapata later this year.