By: Tadzio Garcia
Johana Ceja is a first-generation, American born of Mexican immigrant parents and has sacrificed a lot to pursue her dream.
Ceja has a full schedule. She attends East Los Angeles College full-time, works to help support her family, works on keeping up last semester’s 3.0 GPA. and is one of the top cross country community college runners in California.
Ceja has earned a spot on top-14 teams in her career four times as a Husky.
“My goal this year was to break 19 minutes, which I did last week at Rio Hondo,” said Ceja. “[Assistant] Coach David Loera says, I can break 18 minutes and finish in the top 14 at state with hard work. After last week’s performance, I am believing it,” said Ceja.
Loera coached Ceja at Lincoln High School. “At Lincoln, he said I would break records. I doubted myself, but he worked me hard and I broke records at Lincoln,” said Ceja.
Ceja trains seven days a week. “Working on my commitment to running is something Loera has instilled in me,” said said.
Last year, head coach Louis Ramirez’s philosophy of training included increasing endurance each week, which led her to running her best time of the season when it counted the most: at the community college state championships. Ceja’s time of 19:14.31 was, in fact, good enough for 27th place out of 209 runners.
Ceja was awarded a full scholarship to Southern Oregon University but had to turn it down to continue to support her family.
“Watching my mother work hard in order to support her girls has led me to give to my family while keeping up my studies and commitment to running. This is why I am determined to reach my goals no matter how difficult,” said Ceja.
“We left my father 13 years ago when I was six, because he was violent with my mother, me and my sisters.” said Ceja.
Ceja’s mother put up with domestic abuse for nine years to try to make sure that her girls would not grow up without a father. However, one day her mother said, “enough.”
“We sneaked out of the house in the middle of the night while he was asleep, but only after my mother gave us the choice of staying with him or coming with her.” said Ceja.
With nowhere to live, Ceja’s mother confronted the world on her own with her three girls.
“Sometimes we would live at Lincoln Park or sometimes we would sleep at my mom’s friend’s house,” said Ceja.
Ceja’s family lived like this for three years until a friend told her mother about welfare.
When the family began receiving assistance from the welfare program, they found a woman who was renting a converted garage.
The family has lived there since.
As a young girl growing up in Lincoln Heights, Ceja was fond of running because she would run with the boys and always beat them, she said.
As a young child, she learned about long distance running at school through an organization called Student Run L.A. which encourages at-risk youth to achieve their dreams through a life-changing experience of training for, then running in the L.A. Marathon.
The program gave Ceja an opportunity to compete at an early age. “They gave me the necessary tools to do so, such as access to proper training, running shoes, socks and running shorts,” said Ceja.
The program trained Ceja in races of 3, 6 and then 13 miles, awarding youth certificates or medals in every race they ran.
At eleven years old, Ceja ran her first L.A. Marathon. “It was the best and worst experience ever,” said Ceja. “I learned so much about life.”
Ceja continued long distance running at Lincoln High School, running with Daniel Rincon and her boyfriend Ramiro Ramirez, both currently runners on the ELAC cross country team.
“They both motivate me. I run with them in practice here at ELAC and can still keep up with some of the guys, but not Ramirez or Rincon,” said Ceja.
These Lincoln High graduates are the top three Husky runners.
“Ceja motivates all of us on the ELAC team,” said Ramirez, “and she might catch up to me one day.”
Loera, Ceja’s mentor, exposed her to the track world at Lincoln, bringing her from obscurity to competing in big stadiums against the state’s best, with good results.
“This was an important experience for me,” said Ceja. “And I still run track.”
Ceja competed for the Husky track and field team last year, advancing to the prelims and finals of the SCC in four events and running her best times of the year in the 10,000 and 5,000-meter runs.
“The 10,000 run at the SCC finals was much more difficult for me than running the L.A. Marathon,” said Ceja, “because you’re running on a track in circles.”
Ceja chooses long distance running in cross country as her favorite sport, a sport that could land her a full-ride scholarship with an opportunity to complete her degree in kinesiology.
Ceja’s improvement as a runner could get her that scholarship.
“I see where this sport can take me, so I pay close attention at trainings and learn all I can,” said Ceja.