Alejandro Garcia was supposed to compete on the Humboldt State men's cross country team this fall.
The Ceres High grad had to put his running career on hold after suffering a left ankle injury in October of 2012 while training during his final season with Modesto Junior College.
"At first, it was frustrating," said Garcia, a full-time junior student. "But I had time to think about the future. I have to take things slow and be patient so I can reach all of my goals."
Alejandro plans to tryout out for the Lumberjacks' track and field team next year. Humboldt's roster will consist of 18 runners.
"Right now, I'm training at my own pace," Garcia said. "I don't feel pressure to have to prove myself."
Alejandro also wants to do cross country during the 2014-15 school year. He must also finish in the top 18 at tryouts.
"You have to meet time standards," Garcia said. "I feel confident. By the time cross country starts, I'll be in top shape. If I show I'm in shape and do well, they'll reinstate my scholarship for my last year. I have to pay for everything myself this year."
Sidelined for five months with a strained ligament in his left ankle, Alejandro started training again in June.
"I was doing a morning run, slipped on water and rolled two times on asphalt in the street," Garcia said. "I still got up and finished my four miles. I took two weeks off and started running again. I thought it wasn't that serious. I ran through the pain and completed the season. I knew I wasn't going to perform great. My endurance and speed weren't there. I wanted to help take my team back to State. Because I wasn't patient, I'm paying for it right now. My body just broke down on me. I want to come back 100 percent."
Garcia made a name for himself during his freshman year at Modesto Junior College.
He finished seventh at the 2010 California Community College State Cross Country Championships. He bested 210 other competitors. Garcia won NorCal and Big-8 Conference titles as well.
He swept both the 10,000 and 5,000 meters at the NorCal Finals for track and field in 2011. Alejandro placed fifth in the 10,000 and eighth in the 5,000 at State.
Garcia was sixth in the 10,000 meters in California in 2012. He also defended his 10,000-meter title at NorCals.
Slowed by injury, Garcia took 62nd at the 2012 state cross country competition.
Alejandro committed to Humboldt State following a December visit.
"The thing I like about Humboldt State is its location," Garcia said. "On one side, there's a beach. The other side, there are hills. It's a beautiful place to train."
Alejandro competed in the Avenue of the Giants Half Marathon in Humboldt Redwoods State Park earlier this year. He crossed the finish line in 1:19:12.
"Endurance-wise, I was good," he said. "The last four or five miles, the top of my left foot started hurting. I finished the race. The next day I could barely walk."
Garcia completed a 10-mile run barefooted at the Mad River Beach one week earlier.
"I'm getting way stronger," he said.
Alejandro participated unattached in the Men's 20-29 age division at the Modesto Turkey Trot on Nov. 28.
"I ran it for fun," said Garcia, who finished fourth with a time of 16:56. "I wanted to see where my 5K stands. Two years ago, I competed and won it. Last year, I wasn't able to run because of my injury. I attended it and rode a bike."
Garcia graduated from Ceres High School in 2010.
He had a record-breaking career with the Bulldogs. He became the cross country program's first two-time, state-meet qualifier. Alejandro placed 34th at the CIF championships. He also turned in improved performances at the section (second place), divisional (third) and conference (first) finals. He won the Stanislaus County Invitational title two years in a row.
Garcia took seventh in the 3,200 meters while making his first-ever appearance at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Track & Field Championships as a senior. He finished the race in 9:29.90, nearly 11 seconds faster than his old school record. Alejandro also won the Division-III title.
A full-time student with a 3.3 grade-point average at Humboldt State, Garcia's majoring in kinesiology with an emphasis in exercise science.
"All my advisors are amazed," he said. "Most athletes are under 3.0."
Garcia can't wait to resume his running career.
"I believe everything happens for a reason," said Garcia, who wants to join the coaching ranks and teach in the future. "The best thing from the experience I can pass on to future athletes is to be patient and don't push through injuries. Once you feel pain, treat it right away. I regret not taking more time off."
Running will always be a part of Alejandro's life.
"It's my passion," Garcia said. "I want to run until I die or a big injury takes me from the sport. It's a stress reliever compared to other sports. It's all about your individual effort. Whatever you achieve is because of your own sweat."