Elgin teen pursues Olympic dream, one step at a time
For Anali Cisneros, race walking was ... love at first step, if one can say that.
The now 18-year-old from Elgin was in middle school and had been running with a local team for a couple of years. Frequently sidelined by recurring knee pain, her coach suggested she try race walking.
"From the first time, race walking was a more relaxed experience. It was something that came easily to me," Anali said. "It was really fun to do it, and something really unique."
Her natural talent, coupled with a positive attitude and eagerness to work hard, has propelled Anali to become the top female junior race walker in the country. On Saturday, she'll be racing with the national team at the IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships in Rome.
"She's like a coach's dream, truly," said Diane Graham-Henry, USA Track & Field race walk chairwoman for Illinois and race walking coach for Anali's local team, the Elgin Sharks. "Because if you give her a workout, she says, 'OK, I'll do that.' If you give her a (race) time to meet, she says, 'OK, I'll do that.'"
Anali has a shot at breaking the outdoor 10K U.S. record for a high school senior, Graham-Henry said. Her personal best is 50:37, logged at the national qualifiers in early April, which means she needs to be only 12 seconds faster to top the 50:26 record that has held fast since 1993.
"She has a mindset that is just wonderful," Graham-Henry said. "She pretty much has toasted everyone since two years ago."
Anali's hard work carries over to the classroom. She is an honors student at Elgin High School, where she runs track and has a 4.63 weighted GPA on a 5.0 scale. She received only one B in her life, she said, in AP chemistry last year.
Her goals are to make the 2020 U.S. Olympic team and become a sports medicine doctor.
"I always knew I had an interest in athletes and the sports realm, but I didn't want to become an athletic trainer," she said. "I wanted to do more."
Anali's younger siblings, Nayeli, 17 and Giovanni, 14, also run with the Elgin Sharks, which they all joined together in elementary school. Anali credits her father, Benito Cisneros, with pushing them to do their best.
"Since I was little, he always told us to work hard and be more than the average student. For example, he would tell us more than just do homework, but master it."
Most importantly, she said, her father leads by example.
"He's from Mexico and he came here for the American dream. He dreamed of a better life and he's accomplished that," she said. "The way he's taught us to live really inspires us. I hope to live a life as successful."
In the fall, Anali will attend Judson University in Elgin, where she will train under the guidance of cross-country head coach Morgan Goetschel. He previously trained race walkers at Central Methodist University in Missouri.
"She's our first race walker, but I'm hoping to get one more on board for her to train with. That's the plan, at least," Goetschel said.
Anali is excited to forge ahead, which in turn makes it exciting for a coach, he said. "She is somebody who wants to get better and really has the drive to get better," he said.
The accomplishment she's most proud of came in her sophomore year, the first time she qualified to represent the U.S. in an international competition. Her biggest disappointment was getting disqualified at her first indoor nationals for a technical foul.
"It was crushing," she said.
But Anali never lost her positive attitude, Graham-Henry said.
"If she misses the mark, she's like, 'OK, there's another one.' She doesn't get down from it. I think it makes her more determined," Graham-Henry said.
Race walking, which debuted in the Olympics in 1904, is not supported by the National Collegiate Athletic Association but by the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, Graham-Henry said. There are no race walking college powerhouses per se, only NAIA colleges with great racewalkers at different points in time.
"It's all dependent on the coach," she said. "If the coach has the drive to have race walking, the school has race walking."
Anali said Judson University offered her a great athletic and academic scholarship and, well, it's close to home. "I'm very family-driven," she says, almost sheepishly. "I just like the support of my family."
She isn't daunted by the prospect of possibly being the lone race walker at Judson. In fact, she wants to become an ambassador for the sport and inspire others to join in.
Ever task-oriented, Anali is not planning to take any breaks between finishing college and starting med school.
"It's part of the long-distance runner mentality. You're like, 'Hey, I need to finish the race,'" she said. "You can't just stop and take a break. You have to finish."
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Anali CisnerosAge: 18
School: Elgin High School
Who inspires you? My dad, Benito Cisneros. He's from Mexico; he came here for the American dream and accomplished a better life. He always told us to work hard.
What book are you reading? "Thirty-Two and a Half Complications" by Denise Grover Swank
What music are you listening to? Rihanna and Enrique Iglesias
The three words that best describe you? Positive. Driven. Friendly.