Track has long been a family affair for Chris Izquierdo and Rebecca Hammar, a couple of Stanislaus District kids who used their strength and strong support systems to earn trips to the State Meet.
"I'm the baby of the family, but they all come back when I have a big meet," said Izquierdo, who was second in the 800 meters at the Sac-Joaquin Masters Meet. "For state, my family got green shirts with my name on them and wore those, They were loud, too."
The Izquierdos didn't have anything on the Hammars, however, who were also out in force to support Rebecca.
"At state, I was down to my last throw in the trials and it looked like I might go home," said the Buhach Colony sophomore. "I hit the throw to get to the finals and my family just started whooping it up."
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With such vocal support, no wonder Izquierdo and Hammar are always smiling -- regardless of how tired they are or how hot the weather gets.
"If you have your family behind you, that makes it a lot more fun to go out and give it all you have," Izquierdo said. "You want your family to be proud of everything you do."
Both families have plenty to be proud of, too, as Izquierdo and Hammar have been selected The Bee's track and field athletes of the year.
While Izquierdo set the standard for the boys' 800 in the district -- he also won the section Division I Meet before finishing 22nd in the state -- Hammar was the undisputed star in the girls' field events.
She won the Masters Meet title in the discus with a personal record of 140 feet, 10 inches and was second in the shot put with a toss of 39-9¼.
She was 13th in the state in the shot, with a top mark of 39-2¼, but provided a stunner by finishing third in the discus with a throw of 140-2.
Third place is more impressive than it sounds, considering Hammar's competition: Shafter's Anna Jelmini won the discus at 186-9 -- a meet record, but a few feet short of the U.S. prep mark she set in May, and Stockdale's Alex Collatz was second at 163-1.
"I tried to approach the discus the same way, but I knew I was really fighting for third place," Hammar said. "I focused on my technique, rather than trying to catch them."
It also helps that Mike Hammar, Buhach's coach for the shot and discus, is her father.
"We communicate so well," she said. "Dad knows I can be moody, and he knows how to get me into the right frame of mind before a competition."
If that fails, Rebecca is able to call on other family members: Sister Rachel is a freshman thrower at Long Beach State and brother Michael is throwing at Merced College.
"What I'm going to remember most about this season is standing on the podium at the state meet, Anna and Alex beside me, receiving my medal," Hammar said. "That was a great feeling, being a sophomore and throwing so well."
The highlight of Izquierdo's season was his late charge to move from sixth to second in the Masters Meet final -- his time of 1:55.50 was 2 seconds lower than his time at the previous week's D-I race -- but being on the track itself was a testament to his work ethic.
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Izquierdo had been academically ineligible when his junior season began, a result of too much time spent running and too little time studying.
"That was embarrassing because I allowed it to happen," said Izquierdo, whose GPA fell to 1.8 before he recovered.
He returned to track late in his junior season, after having worked out on his own while bringing his grades up.
"It reminded me of what really matters, and that's academics," said Izquierdo, who carried a 2.5 GPA this season. "The way I used to train was to do all my running and lifting, then homework if there was time. Now I do the homework first and then I train."
Izquierdo, who plans on attending Modesto Junior College in the fall and running with the Pirates' track team, earned a reputation for chasing his foes down in the 800.
His priority is to improve his performance on the backstretch, using his late burst to cover the final 200 meters rather than just the last 100.
"I'm usually with the leaders, then fall back when they make a move on the second lap, and catch them again at the end," he said. "I want to be in a position where I have the strength and confidence to stick with the leaders and pull away over the last 100.
"I'm still nervous about using up my energy too early in the race, and then having people run past me at the end. As I get stronger, though, I think it will boost my confidence."