Sanjuanita “Sam” Martinez is a senior cross country and track runner at Cornell College, located in Mount Vernon, Iowa.
?WORDS CANT EXPLAIN HOW EXCITED I AM!? Luckily, I ate my own words and finally competed in a 5k haha. Never say never. ? It was an amazing race and I'm incredibly blessed to have shared the moment with some of the most important people in my life! I just really want to thank everyone who reached out to me before and after the race. Y'all are awesome! Big thanks to my mom who, despite the distance, is always my #1 fan! Big things keep happening for our dept and I'm so excited and proud to have earned my 5th All American honor while representing Cornell. Rams hell yes! ? #indoortrackandfieldchampionships #NCAAD3 #CornellCollege #Ramily
Credit: @therunner26_2 / Instagram
Martinez, a Mexican-American from Bowie, Texas, started running for Cornell College in 2012 as a freshman. Since then, she’s made a name for herself in the cross country world.
She is really good at what she does.
Credit: Abrah Masterson / Facebook
A five-time All American for Cornell College, Martinez finished 19th at last year’s Division III NCAA Nationals for cross country. This season, she switched to the steeplechase category and has been killing it.
“I’m currently ranked 13th in steeple for this outdoor season, with only one race under my belt,” she told us via email. “I’m the second fastest returner for steeple, and I’m in the running (haha) for winning the national title at the end of May.”
But despite having a legit shot at a national title, Martinez is willing to give that up for the greater good.
Credit: Sanjuanita Martinez / Facebook
In the last couple of weeks, students at Cornell painted over an anti-immigrant display.
Original message: “Build a wall, make it tall.”
Altered message: “Wall or no wall, we stand tall.”
It wasn’t an isolated incident. Someone also posted this note in a dorm bathroom.
“If I could, I would deport you myself.”
Martinez herself was a witness to this anti-Latino behavior.
She told us that on the night of April 13, students were chalking up the college’s sidewalks with messages that read “Trump 2016,” “weak at the border” and “we have free speech.”
Martinez knew that she had to do something about all the hate being spewed. What she did involved running.
Credit: @therunner26_2 / Instagram
By choosing to run as a non-attached athlete, Martinez would essentially be disqualifying herself from competing for the national title. For her, this sacrifice was more than worth it.
“[The] majority of the perpetrators on campus have been male athletes, some of which had already been suspended from their respective programs prior to these incidents,” she explained. “That makes me very uncomfortable not only as an athlete of color, but as a female athlete. Once I started learning who was involved, I saw even more reason for me to take the stance that I did. I feel uncomfortable in a place that I call my home.”
That’s right. She’s put a once-in-a-lifetime dream on the line to take a stand for Latinos.
And it’s been working!
Credit: Cornell College / YouTube
On Monday, Cornell College President Jonathan Brand called an all-campus meeting to address the bigotry.
Credit: Cornell College / Facebook
But that’s not enough for Martinez, who’s still unsure about repping a school that might not have her back.
“I’m 80 percent sure I will run the remainder of the season in my jersey. We will be having another meeting with Brand this Friday and based on what we have heard from faculty and some administrators, change is happening,” Martinez said. “I feel that based off the meeting with Brand, I will then make the ultimate decision of whether to run with the jersey or not for the remainder of the season.”
Cornell College spokesperson Jill Hawk confirmed that the administration had met with Martinez to further discuss the fracas.
“Ms. Martinez has decided that she will be running in her jersey for the remainder of the season,” Hawk said in a written statement. “Faculty and staff met with Ms. Martinez to discuss her concerns, and they want to do whatever they can to erase any feelings of insecurity for any Cornell College students. We value all of our students and realize that the incidents that occurred last week have had an impact on the entire campus.”
Whether Martinez decides to rock the purple school jersey or not, it’s clear that her actions have started a much needed conversation at her campus.
“I’m not naive enough to think that everything will be fixed overnight,” Martinez concluded. “We just want the proper steps to be taken so that change will happen. It will happen either in these last few weeks of the school year and even throughout the next school year, and for years to come.”