By Tadzio Garcia
East Los Angeles College track and field co-captain Gonzalo Ceja has grown out of a life of trouble to pursue an education while going as far as he can as an athlete.
“When I was a teenager I had a dream of being an athlete, but I never got that chance because I chose the quick life on the streets. While doing time, I learned life altering changes such as the importance of an education instead of the life I was leading. This was my second chance,” Ceja said.
His second chance began with travel and work then pursuing a degree beginning at ELAC. In his first-ever year of competitive sports he ran to the No. 2 spot on the ELAC men’s cross country team.
The top 2012 runner at ELAC was Andres De La Cruz, who is competing in his second season for the Cal State University, Los Angeles track and field team.
“When I first met him (Ceja) I was inspired by his story. He had just started his running career and was already turning heads. I was very impressed with the amount of determination and passion he has for this sport and his life. It’s an honor to have been able to compete with him. I see great things coming for Gonzalo Ceja,” De La Cruz said.
Ceja grew into a leader of the ELAC team. “Even though he can be playful, he is serious when it comes to practice. He has all the qualities of a strong leader,” Yadira Abarca, Ceja’s 2012 teammate, said.
He reminds his teammates to train on non-training days and asks them to join him on bike rides or runs, e.g., in the mountains.
“I would like to move on to a four-year university near mountains. I love the mountains, but I will transfer to the place that offers me the best opportunity,” Ceja said
Ceja advanced to the CCCAA 2013 track and field state finals in the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase after taking fourth place at the SoCal Championships in that event preceded by second place at the South Coast Conference finals.
Brandon Taylor of Cerritos beat Ceja in the SCC finals. Ceja then ran a personal best 9:37.99 minutes while beating Taylor at SoCal.
“(Ceja) is one of the most optimistic persons I know. Even if he doesn’t do that great in a race he always keeps his head up high and believes in himself to do great on the next race,” ELAC student Diederich Orellana, said.
Ceja is working this season to become All-American at state and beating the ELAC steeplechase record of 9:05.20. This result would bring him 28.20 seconds off an Olympic qualifying standard “B” time.
That record belongs to Oscar Ogwaro who is the 2007 state steeplechase championship. No one in the state finals has beaten that time since.
0“I train every day and think about what I need to do to make my goals reachable. I never thought I would be the person I am now. Statistics say that someone with a similar past as myself should be part of a gang, a drug dealer, incarcerated or dead,” Ceja said.
Ceja attended El Camino, Los Angeles Wilson, Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln high schools prior to earning his GED in juvenile hall. “Before doing time I felt that I wasn’t myself unless I was doing something bad,” Ceja said.
Even in defeat Ceja looks forward to the future. “The past is the past. I plan everything for the future. There is no looking back, but I stay true to the sport, to ELAC, East L.A. and more importantly, to myself,” Ceja said
Ceja began his second chance in life began with different jobs that led to traveling.
“I explored to see life in another perspective. Gaining wisdom is my life goal and what better way to gain wisdom than to travel and experience different environments,” Ceja said
Ceja worked in Sonora, Mexico taking care of two fruit/ice cream shops. He was in charge of supplying them with their merchandise and security. He also worked at two taco stands as their security.
He traveled to Texas then Tennessee to work as a roofer. He received roofing experience from working with his father in his early teens.
He returned to Los Angeles at the age of 21 to begin college. He says you should never forget where you came from.
“I will not stop until I am at my best, you got my word. I won’t stop. East Los Angeles born and raised….To all the homies, keep your head up and think positive. The sky’s the limit,” Ceja said.
He pursued his dream of competing as an athlete at ELAC as part of his education. His results can land him a scholarship at a “four-year university,” ELAC track and field Head Coach Louis Ramirez said.
In this process, Ceja continues to build his athletic skills using techniques he learns.
“I remind myself of all the hard work and use the techniques taught to me by the coaches when I run. I even run after midnight because I just love the empty streets, the city lights and the sound of my running.” Ceja said.