Sometimes it Runs in the Family
December, 2021 - Issue #206

Unfortunately, when it comes to dealing with adversity, Saugus High School students have written the playbook. After experiencing the ravages of local wildfires, a school tragedy and a pandemic, the young adults that roam the campus on Centurion Way have successfully overcome a litany of challenges.
Bella Duarte, a current Saugus senior cross-country league champion, is no exception. The difference is that Bella, who has been running cross country since she was 8 years old, was built to endure. In fact, for any athlete who competes in the sport of cross-country running, endurance is the name of the game.
Duarte says about her ability to persevere, "The trick is, whenever you think you've used up everything, there's still 40 percent left in the tank, and whenever I feel like I'm done I try to remember that." The important part for elite high school athletes like Bella is how they spend that first 60 percent - and this athlete has been busy making the most of hers. Bella currently holds the third-fastest time in Foothill League history for women's cross-country competitions, behind Mariah Castillo and Samantha Ortega, with a time of 16.40.00.
A wasted season looms large for all high school competitors that experienced the hardships of 2020, but racing against time is something all track athletes know a little something about.
"Running is a process. That is something I learned from a very young age," Bella explains.
Duarte's father, Rey, ran track for the Mexican national team but started at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights before transitioning to Long Beach City and eventually USC. Her mom, Isela, ran collegiate track as well and jokes that she only accepted Rey's invitation for a first date because, "he was a runner."
"I guess these kids were born to run," says Rey about his children, three of which currently race competitively, adding with a laugh, "Running was actually the last thing that I wanted her to do when she was younger," citing the physical toll that it takes on your body as the reason for his hesitancy.
Both of Bella's older brothers, Joshua and Isaiah, ran at Saugus, and currently compete at the collegiate level for The Master's University and College of the Canyons respectively.
Bella has two younger brothers as well, Mateo and Roman, who Bella says, "love to support their older siblings."
For most runners, cross country is a lifestyle - and the Duarte family is no exception to the rule. However, Bella has more than track and field on her mind.
"I want to work with children with autism, or in music. I just want to give back to the community in some way," says Bella about her future prospects, although she isn't certain exactly what that path looks like at this point. Having firsthand experience is a plus in the profession of special education, as her younger brother Roman is on the spectrum.
"The difference is that Bella, who has been running cross country since she was 8 years old, was BUILT TO ENDURE."
Bella says about Roman, "He loves music, and one of my favorite things to do is play something for him when he's having a difficult day. I think somehow it calms the both of us down." Bella enjoys playing violin, guitar, clarinet and piano when she has the time.
Saugus Cross-country Head Coach Kevin Berns, who also works for the high school's special education department, said, "Bella has this sense of patience and humility that I can recognize comes from her family dynamic. I'm constantly impressed by her maturity."
Berns has been with Bella as a running coach since she was in junior high competing for the Storm running team. He took over as Saugus head coach last year, a big job considering the impressive history of the cross-country program that precedes him. The team currently ranks seventh in the state heading into the CIF Southern Section preliminary round.
The Centurions won nine state titles in 11 years under the leadership of former head coach Rene Paragas and carried a 14-year-long string of Foothill League titles coming into last season, partly modified due to COVID restrictions, where they placed third in the state.
"There are team goals and individual goals in this sport - and obviously the goal is to get to state for our program," says Berns about his team's prospects in 2021. "We can overcome a lot here, our girls have shown that." Bella says with a smile, "I just want to push myself to the finish, you know - leave nothing in the tank."
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