Grace Graham-Zamudio, 19, has spent half of her life running from goal to goal. Ever since finishing her first 5K run at 10 years of age with her father, Zamudio just can’t stop.
“I’ve been running for almost half of my life,” she said.
Zamudio was September’s athlete of the month for the Lady Vaquero’s cross country team, winning individual titles at the Fresno invitational on Sept. 8, the Orange Coast Classic on Sept. 15, the Golden West Invitational on Sept. 21 and the Foothill Invitational on Sept. 28. She had the top state mark among female community college runners at the Mark Covert Classic on Sept. 1, according to the California Community College Athletic Association.
Born and raised in Santa Clarita, Zamudio began running in middle school when a friend invited her to join a youth running program that went from winning regional to nationals.
She and her father, Arthur, would run together. He even ran a few marathons. Zamudio’s younger sister Sarah, 13, is also currently running in a local youth running program. Running has become a family activity that gives them something in common.
During high school, Zamudio and her parents started knocking heads, and she remembered them as being strict.
“I sent them to hell and back,” reflected Zamudio. “I think it was me, thinking that I was able to do whatever I wanted to do, and for them to be OK with it.”
Arthur didn’t want to see his little girl to experience any kind of pain, but he understood that his daughter was going to confront different and sometimes difficult situations as consequences of her actions.
“Grace had some choices that she needed to face,” said Arthur. “We tried to talk to her and help, but there are decisions that you need to make. Sometimes we make the wrong choices and we have to learn from them.”
Despite their difference, Zamudio’s parents have always been supportive, and this is the first year since high school when their relationships have strengthened.
“I started respecting them more,” said Zamudio. “They’ve loosened up, and I’ve also matured a lot since high school.”
Zamudio and her mother are closer than ever, while Sarah, her younger sister, continues to follow and look up to her, and Arthur still tries to make it to every race.
David Chalmers, Zamudio’s boyfriend of two months and an international students from Scotland, chased the runner for five months before he persuaded her to date him. When Chalmers was asked if he was Zamudio’s number-one fan he didn’t hesitate to answer, “yes!”
“I liked that she was making me work for it [Zamudio’s affections],” said Chalmers, “so I knew I was getting someone worthwhile.”
Chalmers and Zamudio met through running; they were both runners for cross country. He was initially attracted to her focus and self discipline. He found her level headed, rational and calm
Chalmers and his dedication can be seen at every track meet, cheering Zamudio on.
“During competition she stands out because she is way up at the front and there is no one around her,” said Chalmers. “She’s got drive and she’s really good at what she does.”
In light of her recent local and state recognition, Zamudio remains modest and works just as hard as ever, running nine miles on weekdays and 11 to 12 miles on Sundays. The most her coach has ever assigned her to run at home was 15 miles. She runs an estimated total of 57 miles per week.
“I feel the practices are harder than the actual races,” said Zamudio. “The practices are hard because when we’re racing we don’t think about how we’re hurting or how far we have to go. We are thinking about who we need to pass, what time we are hitting and it all becomes more fluid and natural. I feel like I perform well when my mind is clear and I just go out there and run.”
“We are made for pushing past our limits; we have these abilities and we are able to focus on our talent and grow,” said Arthur. “When I really looked at these kids and watch them apply themselves it’s inspiring. The sport shows their character. It’s like life, it’s not always easy and it will hit you hard.”
Life hit Zamudio very hard early last spring when a close friend of hers took his own life.
“That was difficult to overcome,” said Zamudio. “I was really sad it happened over spring break, during a time when I thought I was going to be able to see him.”
They had been especially close in 10th and 11th grade, but had since drifted apart.
“We used to go drive around and talk,” said Zamudio.
He was 19 years old. They had talked the night before, “The next day we got the news, and you feel like you could’ve done something. I saw it in her eyes, that she couldn’t believe that someone that young could die,” said Arthur. “I saw Grace take life seriously.”
“It’s always nice to talk or be nice to people, because you never know what someone is going through,” said Zamudio with clear eyes and a kind smile.
“You talk to these kids [GCC athletes] and find out what they are going through. Despite what happens in life, you still go out and do what you love,” said Arthur.
For both Zamudio and Arthur there is something special about running.
“One thing I love about the sport is the purity of it. There is no outside its all within,” said Arthur.
“Running is an escape,” explained Zamudio. “Whenever you’re worrying about school, money or friends you can get a break for an hour or two out of the day, and you’re just with yourself. I think that’s why I keep running, it’s my way of getting some alone time, and I get some peace.”