Based on a true story: West team surprised by visit from runner who inspired Disney movie


Caleb Sandoval

The Greeley West distance team poses for a picture with Thomas Valles. Valles was a state-champion cross country runner who was the inspiration for the Disney movie McFarland, USA.

Caleb Sandoval, Staff Writer

The track and field team had a surprise visit that made its first official practice of the season on Monday unlike any other before. 

Thomas Valles, a member of the state champion McFarland High School cross country team that was featured in the 2015 Disney film McFarland, USA stumbled upon Greeley West’s track team and provided some words of wisdom.  Valles had come to Greeley to visit the University of Northern Colorado’s track team, only to find the track was empty. After driving around town, he saw Greeley West practicing and decided to stop and visit them before he left.

The distance team was caught by surprise, as they were not expecting Valles to visit their school on their first day of track practice. A lot of them were speechless and could not believe what they were seeing. “At first I didn’t really recognize him, but when he finally said it was him, I was like, ‘Whoa, I’m meeting a guy who ran super fast during high school,’” said junior Erick Morales.

Valles gave a compelling speech that inspired the distance team. The appearance of this famous runner had perfect timing to start off the season on the right foot with some extra motivation. “I was just so thankful that he decided to stumble upon West because he came on the perfect day, the first day of the season. And he just gave everyone that extra motivation that we needed in this different type of season we’re about to begin,” said the distance team coach, Ms. Conley Marquez.

Senior Jonathan Garrido felt inspired to keep moving forward no matter what. Garrido said, “Valles is one of the main influences that has helped inspire me to unleash an inextinguishable spark inside me, on and off the race course.”

Not only was Valles able to be an inspiration to the members of the distance track team, but was able to relate to them. Since he had a very similar background to the students at Greeley West, they were able to have a connection through their sport and own personal story.  Valles’ story includes being a Hispanic American born from immigrants.  “I think [his speech] gave people motivation, but he also relates to a lot of students at Greeley West,” stated Marquez.