Driving by on an old farm road somewhere between Delano and McFarland, Pond Elementary doesn't look like much. Home to less than 200 kids, the odds that an elite runner would come from here are small, but one seven-year-old has been beating the odds her whole life. "We normally don't let the teeny ones participate but she was such a good runner," said Pond principal Frank Ohnesorgen.
Typically the school only allows kids to try out for the track team from the fourth grade and on but Ohnesorgen made and exemption for seven-year-old Julissa Vargas run because "she was such a good runner."
Earlier this month she took advantage of her chance qualifying for the USATF Junior Olympics just like her dad did back in 1997. "She always wanted to be number one," said Vargas of his daughter. "She was very competitive and looking back, that's how I was."
Without a track to practice on, Julissa and the rest of the Pond runners are forced to lap around the orchards surrounding the school. But the roads surrounding the school are just part of a longer journey for the 2nd grader..
Before she even hit the track, her parent feared for her future. "At 25 weeks Julissa decided she wanted to come into this world," said Gloria Vargas, her mom. Julissa wasn't just a preemie, she was a micro preemie, weighing just one pound and ten ounces and measuring just 13 inches at birth. "Our wedding bands fit in her hands," Gloria said. "She was so fragile."
Then came the complications. Julissa was diagnosed with RSV, a deadly virus for someone so young. Doctors gave her just a 5% chance at survival. "We prayed a lot," Gloria said. "We cried a lot."
Julissa made it through the night and seven months later came home for the first time. At age three she had open heart surgery and two years later she received a clean bill of health. "My husband literally had to ask the cardiologist 3-4 times 'Are you sure she can do sports? Are you sure she can do sports?' 'She's clear sir, she's clear," Gloria remembers.
Today she looks like any other seven-year-old. Healthy and in love with running. "I get faster every time," she said.
Faster with time and beating the odds every day. "She showed us all what little kids can do when given the opportunity," Ohnesorgen
On Wednesday of next week she'll compete in the 800m in Lawrence, Kansas and if she wins will move on to the final on Saturday, July 29th. She will also run the 1500m final on Sunday the 30th.
Her family has set up a gofundme page to offset the travel costs. Click here to donate.
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