Marco Perez was at a crossroads at this point last year.
It took the advice and encouragement from his father, a good friend and former coach to help set him on path to a more certain future.
The 2020 East Union graduate is wrapping up his first semester at San Joaquin Delta College, where he is studying psychology and excelling as a distance runner. Perez is Delta’s first conference individual male champion since 2002, and it took a few unexpected turns to get there.
He started college life in Santa Barbara, but his time there was cut short. Due to financial reasons, he left the school and returned home to get a job.
“After that setback, I was not sure what I wanted to do in my life,” Perez said. “I really didn’t like knowing to do, so I talked to my dad (Alfredo Perez) and he told me to just follow my passion and don’t settle for something because it’s comfortable.
“That’s when I started running again. I just fell in love with it like I did in high school. It’s really what I love to do.”
Perez went on to enroll at Modesto Junior College in the spring and trained with the Pirates track and field program while there but did not get to compete in any official meets because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Over the summer, he transferred to Delta, and it was now-teammate and friend Jorge Machuca urged him to go out for the cross country team. The two trained together until the start of the season to stay ready, and Perez would eventually be reunited with former East Union teammate Abel Zuniga and former EU coach Rick Cuevas.
While previously running for Cuevas, Perez qualified for the California Interscholastic Federation State Championships during his sophomore year and again in 2019 as part of a talented team that captured the second Sac-Joaquin Section Division III title in school history.
Cuevas is now in his first year as Delta’s assistant coach under Lauryn Jordan-Seales.
“I knew one of the guys who was already going out for the team and over the summer he kept pushing me to join cross country,” Perez said of Machuca. “We were running all the time because we enjoyed it, but eventually we wanted to get better so we just upped our mileage. When I found out Cuevas was (at Delta) I was really excited.”
Perez picked up where he left off from his senior year at East Union and captured the Big 8 Conference individual male championship at American River College on Oct. 29. He held off three runners from ARC to win it in 20 minutes, 09.1 seconds. The Mustangs finished as the team runner-up behind ARC.
Perez ended a 19-year drought for Delta, which hadn’t had a male runner take first in a conference meet since it was last achieved by another East Union alumnus. Ricky Cuevas, the son of Rick, did it in the Bay Valley Championships back in 2002.
“Ricky couldn’t believe it had been that long,” Coach Cuevas said. “I am very proud of Marco and very happy for him, but at the same time it’s not surprising because he Marco is a talented runner.”s
Delta’s women’s team also had a banner day at the Big 8 final, claiming its first conference title since the 1990s while paced by individual first-place finisher Yasmin Melendrez of Lodi.
This past weekend, Perez and other local products representing Delta and MJC competed in the California Community College Athletic Association State Championships. He, Machuca and Zuniga each qualified individually out of the NorCal Regional on Nov. 5.
In the state finale, Perez completed the 4-mile course at Woodward Park in Fresno in 20 minutes, 51.3 seconds, good for 26th place out of 166. Former Ripon standout Abrahim Alsaidi finished in 15th in 20:38.7 for MJC.
Woodward Park is also the site of the CIF state meet, and Perez enjoyed his return to the familiar course.
“I beat my (personal record) from high school, which was pretty cool,” he said. “We got to stay overnight and the day before we had a pasta dinner. Just having that experience with my teammates is a moment you can’t take back. It was a really fun experience, and hopefully next year we can come back as a team and go for the state title.”
Perez is thankful to everyone who helped steer him in this direction. Included are coaches and short-time teammates at MJC, headed by East Union grad Demitrius Snaer.
“I feel a lot better now,” Perez said. “Choosing to go back to running is the best decision I have ever made in my life.”