“She’s got disabilities, but she was never raised to be disabled,” said Catherine Gilson about her 20-year-old daughter, Cheyenne Valenzuela, who deals daily with epilepsy, a thyroid disease, hypoglycemia and autism, among other challenges.

Cheyenne is a junior at Astoria High School and part of the Astoria School District’s Consortium classroom. She’s also part of the small percentage of people who have completed a marathon – three consecutive Los Angeles marathons, in fact.

In training for those three marathons in 2008, 2009 and 2010, she finished nearly 100 races and once won her age bracket in a half marathon.

Cheyenne, who’s been in special education programs since 1999, first started running while living in Palm Springs, Calif., and attending the Palm Desert Community School, similar to the consortium classrooms. A teacher at the school, Molly Thorpe, had a history of training marathon runners. She took Valenzuela and an entire class worth of students and started them in September of 2007 training for their first LA Marathon in March of 2008.

“All of a sudden, I started to get really into it,” said Cheyenne, who started the first week running a mile several days a week, regardless of how long it took. “I’d take it (a running route), and I’m gone.”

Every week added a mile to her route, often along busy city streets, and she worked up to an 18-mile run, her last major outing before the marathon. Gilson said she and other parents helped supply the children with water and granola bars when they’d go east to train in the desert on longer runs.

Gilson’s three youngest children have in total run nine LA?marathons. Cheyenne’s younger brother Philip “Mikey” Valenzuela ran four straight LA marathons, and her older brother Anthony Valenzuela ran two.

Cheyenne finished the 2008 LA Marathon, with a fannie pack filled with her glucose shots, in 6:36:17 net time – it takes into consideration the human traffic jam at large events – for 4,399th among women and 368th in her division.

In her three years of intensive running, Cheyenne continually pushed through various injuries to finish races. In the 2009 Highland (Calif.) Family YMCA?Half Marathon, she tripped, hitting her hands, face and knees and having to receive treatment in an ambulance – afterward, she got out, freshly bandaged, and finished 99th out of 103 runners.

In the 2009 LA?Marathon, Cheyenne finished in 6:38:22. That same year, she blew out her right arch tripping on some stairs and still ran the La Quinta half marathon four days later.

In 2010, Cheyenne, then 17, scored her only age group victory in a half marathon, topping all females ages 15 to 17 in the Highland half marathon.

In the 2010 LA marathon, she blew out a knee but still finished in slightly more than seven hours.

“They run about 20 races in a running season, and she ran three of them,” said Gilson, adding that her younger three children would run the equivalent of three marathons training for one.

Moving to the North Coast

Gilson also has three older children living in Astoria, along with their grandchildren, which brought Cheyenne from Redlands, Calif., to the North Coast in December of 2011.

“It was a hard thing to leave my friends in Redlands,” she said about the adjustment.

Since then, she has run the 1,500- and 800-meter races for the AHS?track team, but has yet to run in any community races.

“She competes in all the regular track meets,” said Gilson. “She doesn’t go to invitationals because she’s more of a distance runner than a sprinter.”

Cheyenne’s also a big part of the community, winning the Pioneer Award at a recent consortium classroom celebration for her volunteer work at the Holiday Inn and the Clatsop Retirement Village. The work is part of the life skills training in the consortium program for Cheyenne, who’s expected to graduate next year.

During her time in AHS?teacher Mickey Cereghino’s advanced drawing class, Cheyenne has also developed an affinity for charcoals, pastels and anything else that involves her hands.

“I've heard of athletes in the sports-world going into ‘the zone,’ where they don't realize what is going on around them and are free from distractions,” said Cereghino. “Every time Cheyenne gets into a project, she is in ‘the zone.’ She doesn't want to be distracted, and she certainly doesn't need any outside influences. She just becomes a totally expressive, creative person. It's a beautiful thing.”

Cheyenne keeps a growing box of drawings she’s created and hopes to frame and hang in her bedroom. Gilson said she’ll soon hand over an entire bedroom wall for Cheyenne for a new palette.

“I want to go to Corban (University in Salem),” said Cheyenne, who is phasing in to more non-consortium classes and will likely attend Clatsop Community College. “I want to run; I want to do art; I want to do computer classes.”

They’re looking to learn more about local contests and possibly add Cheyenne, whose specialty lies in 5K and 10K races, to the cross country team – maybe even the Hood to Coast relay some day. This coming Saturday, she’ll be registering for the Special Olympics.


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