Sondheimer: From Canoga Park to Harvard, Dulce Gonzalez intends to make a difference

·3 min read

There’s something more important than winning a race. It’s called conquering life, and 17-year-old Dulce Gonzalez of Canoga Park High is headed on a journey that has teachers, classmates and strangers alike cheering for her.

The senior competed in Friday’s state championships in the 1,600 and 800 in Clovis. She didn’t qualify for the finals.

After crossing the finish line in her final high school race, she said, “I was tired. It was crazy that was it. But in my mind, that wasn’t it. I want to keep going and see where it leads.”

The road is leading to Harvard.

On New Year’s Eve, at the urging of classmates, a sleep-deprived Gonzalez pushed the button on her computer just before midnight to submit her final application.

“I wasn’t expecting to get in,” she said. “It was through the help of my team, my family, my friends. They were all encouraging me to try.”

On March 31, surrounded by Canoga Park track and field teammates after practice, she opened her computer and clicked to see if she had been accepted. Then came screams from friends. Gonzalez started to cry.

“The best part of getting into Harvard was knowing if I could do it, my teammates could,” she said.

The straight-A student who won the City Section Division III cross-country title last fall enjoyed running in middle school when she joined Students Run L.A. and trained to run in the L.A. Marathon. She joined the cross-country team in high school and has made running her escape from all the pressures and stress associated with trying to get into college.

"Running is that positive escape," she said. "Even though I’ve always had this image being a good student, it came with drawbacks. I had to maintain the perfect image and perfect frame. Running allowed me to get away from that person and run for myself and be myself. I’ve always had these perfect grades, It’s difficult to slip. The only way is to go down. It can be suffocation. When you run, it can release that pressure.”

Her parents came here from Mexico and provide inspiration.

“My mom would walk me to school," she said. "Before she sent me in, she’d say, ‘Go study, you’re going to be No. 1.’ Those words are imprinted in me. My father, because he’s a gardener, I didn’t get to see him. He’d wake up early and come home late. He was caring for the family. I just wanted to repay him. That inspired me to work harder.”

To get into Harvard, she had to write several essays. Her advice?

"Don’t beat yourself up about not getting into a certain school," she said. "Be true to yourself. Write about what’s true. Who is that person behind all these words."

The plan for Gonzalez is to graduate from Harvard, attend law school and become an immigration lawyer.

“I’ve seen too many stories of immigrant hardships and want to give back to the community,” she said. “That’s truly my goal.”

As for running, she finished 25th in the 1,600 prelims in Clovis and 21st in the 800 prelims.

"Honestly it was surreal," she said. "I was running with all these great runners from California. Crossing the finish line was bittersweet."

The journey isn't finished. It has only begun, and who knows where it will take her in running and in life.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.