It took Blanca Fernandez exactly five minutes to learn she had an aptitude for the mile run, as the graduate-junior track & field athlete at Temple earned her first-ever victory in the United States in an event she had never competed in before.
Originally hailing from Leon, Spain, Fernandez was a national champion in the women’s 1,500-meter run, and also competed as a member of the Spanish National Team. In addition, she is currently ranked No. 116 globally in the women’s 1500-meter run.
“If her first race is any indication of what her potential is, I think we will be happy,” first-year coach Elvis Forde said. “That’s the first time she has raced in quite some time, so that’s just to knock the rust off a little bit. We are going to expect some real fun things from her.”
Cross country coach James Snyder said he first came across Fernandez’s talent after perusing the results from running events overseas, and began communicating with her last April.
Upon taking a serious interest in bringing Fernandez to the U.S., Snyder was able to work out full scholarship benefits for her that would include two full years of NCAA athletic eligibility.
After being contacted by Temple, Fernandez said she knew the move was something she needed to pursue.
“I finished my degree in Spain and I was living with my parents, so [I knew] I needed to move away,” Fernandez said. “This was a really good choice, just as a new experience.”
Both Forde and Snyder said Fernandez was originally supposed to arrive in August to compete in cross country, but documentation issues hindered her arrival until the beginning of the spring semester.
“Sometimes the international process takes a little bit longer than recruiting a kid locally from the United States,” Forde said. “There are a lot of different logistics and paperwork that has to go through the NCAA to clear it.”
Once the NCAA approved her credentials, Fernandez was able to join the Owls midway through their indoor season.
Although she was eligible to compete upon her arrival, Forde said he wanted to give Fernandez enough time to adjust to the different aspects of life in the U.S.
After all, Forde, a Barbados native, was an international student himself, and knows the feeling of arriving in an unfamiliar land.
“When you get the opportunity, you hold on to it for dear life,” Forde said. “It means so much to you that someone is giving you that chance to come all the way across the waters to get a chance to compete in college. It takes a little bit to kind of get here and get adjusted, to figure out what building you’re living in, getting used to the different food, and then adjusting to the change in time.”
Fernandez said her first few weeks on Main Campus have been a bit overwhelming, and that she is still trying to adjust to the life of a full-time Division I athlete.
“Everything was new [and] everything was different,” Fernandez said of her move. “The language is a big point [of difficulty], but also the classes. I’m not used to having hours and hours in English, so my mind is exhausted all the time.”
In order to assist her with developing her English skills, Fernandez said she is enrolled in a one-hour-a-week English program to help her become more familiar with the language.
While she welcomes the extra help, Fernandez said she wishes she could have more practice.
“It is not enough, but I don’t have more time,” Fernandez said of the English classes. “[I] have to do homework or writing and I have to translate everything and write it again, so it takes me twice the [amount of] time it should.”
Despite the language barrier, Snyder said he hopes Fernandez can act as a role model for some of the younger athletes to look up to for support.
“Anytime you have an athlete in your program [that] has had success at a high level, people are going to look up to them,” Snyder said. “Obviously she is a little bit older, a little more seasoned [and] is just a little more familiar with training and racing at a high level.”
Fernandez said her teammates are helping her further develop her English, and that she wants to use her experience to help return the favor.
“I think I can help them just because I am older,” Fernandez said. “They were the first people I met here and we have a lot of things in common. I’m like the big sister.”
Tyler Device can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org