INDEPENDENCE — Grit.
It’s the first word that comes to mind when describing Bethanie Altamirano. She’s quiet and a little reserved when you talk with her, but out on the track, the determination to be her best overtakes that shy countenance and turns it into an animal — a racehorse galloping toward the finish line.
“Bethanie seems to have the ability to shut out all the pain, and train with all-out intensity and desire that I’ve never known in others,” head coach Eli Cirino said. “Her most successful time on the track came at a time in her life that she was also dealing with tremendous adversity. She is able to channel all her energy — emotional pain, whatever is going on — into her workouts, and it gives her strength. There are so many of us that struggle to be at our best when dealing with the worst, and she seems to thrive.”
Altamirano has been running track for the past six years, finding her niche as a sprinter fairly early on.
“I ran cross-country the first year and I was like, oh my gosh I do not like distance,” she said, laughing. “So I was like, maybe I’ll just do sprints. And my first thought was doing the 400-meters — I don’t know the reason why; it just came to mind.”
The 400 is arguably one of the harder races in the sport, requiring the runner to take a full-on sprint the entire lap.
Apparently it was the perfect fit for Altamirano because last year she became the 400 state champion for Central High School.
Coming off that success as she went into her last season of high school, track would eventually become a sort of barrier for her, a mental hurdle she had to overcome.
“Just seeing my time at state and my placement, I kept comparing to last year,” she said. “(But) I accepted it and it’s fine. I still had a really good season. Our girls 4x4 relay team broke the school record, which is really amazing; we’ve tried to break that record for a while. I just have to look more positive at it.”
Last year, she said track was her life; school fell by the wayside. This year, applying for colleges and scholarships took priority.
“I focused more on school than I did on track,” she said.
Even still, “it was probably one of my best years,” she said. “I felt closer with my team because of how much positivity there was. Even if I felt down, they always brought me up. I’m really thankful for my team.”
“I felt closer with my team because of how much positivity there was.”
Over the past six years, Altamirano’s success on the track came in forms of the relationships she’s built with Cirino and her teammates, breaking three school records in the 400 and the 4x100 and 4x400-meter relays, and becoming the state champion her junior year — which became one of her greatest memories, she said.
“I remember I had a dream the night of state,” Altamirano said, “and the day it happened, it happened exactly how it did in my dream. It was really crazy. Looking at the time on the board, looking at it saying 57 seconds, I thought that was impossible. I was walking up to Cirino after the race and I just hugged him.”
Her relationship with Cirino is special — one that extends beyond just athlete and coach.
“He’s like a dad to me,” she said. “I talk to him about anything — my family, sports. He’s helped me so much. He always knows what to say.”
To echo her, Cirino said: “I’ve told her many times, ‘I’ve got two boys, but no girls, and you’re like a daughter to me.’ I will miss seeing her every day; such an awesome young lady.”
Next fall, she starts college at Western Oregon University, where she will study early childhood education and run track and field.
Through it all, Altamirano acknowledges the one person who she said inspires her on a daily basis.
“My mom,” she said. “She’s been through a lot the past four years. Her kidneys are not fully functioning and she has to go through a lot of dialysis. She helps us a lot and supports us a lot. She always tries to come to the track meets, even though she feels bad, and I can’t thank her enough for all she’s done.”