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Family business

For Barstow's Chavez, running is a family affair

Running always came naturally for Isaac Chavez.

He’s been the fastest in his age group since he began organized running in middle school. Although he dabbled in baseball, basketball and soccer as a child, he gravitated toward running, in part because of his family’s connection to the sport.

Chavez comes from a line of runners. His grandfather Robert Barela once ran a 2 hour, 24 minute marathon and was invited to the U.S. Olympic Trials. His mother Virginia once held the Barstow High record for girls cross country. His sister Alyshia also had a productive running career at Barstow until shin splints slowed her down. Cousins on both side of his family also ran.

 “I guess it just happened to be that it was easy for me, too,” Chavez said. “You have a lot of talent coming from a running family. If you have the talent, why not do it I guess?”

Despite the strong pedigree, Chavez might be the best yet in his family.

“I came in first a lot of times, but I wasn’t as good as Isaac,” Virginia said.

Isaac closed out his high school career, which already included three team state titles in cross country, with an 8:57.04 performance in the 3,200 meters at the CIF State Track and Field Championships in June to finish eighth and break a 27-year-old Barstow record. The Chico State-bound runner’s performance made him the 2009 Daily Press Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year.

“It’s crazy how you could put a goal out there and achieve it,” Chavez said of breaking 9 minutes. “Now you are going to graduate and go off to college and have that great time follow you to college. I look at it as a great starting point to another career I’m going to be going into.”

When Chavez was just starting to run seriously at Barstow Intermediate School, his sister was in high school. Chavez said he looked up to Alyshia and the runners on the boys team. He sometimes followed them on runs and even went with the team to its annual retreat to Yosemite National Park. It was inspiring to watch runners like Avery Himes and Adam Rodriguez, Chavez said. Those runners eventually helped Barstow win back-to-back state titles in cross country earlier this decade.

Chavez isn’t the first Barstow runner with deep racing roots. Former Barstow track and cross country coach Jim Duarte often sought out runners who had a background in the sport.

“It does play a role,” Duarte said. “People that have been a part of that appreciate the true sport of it. It’s a sport that gets so little recognition that some people probably wonder, why participate at all?”

That wasn’t the case in the Chavez household. Virginia didn’t push her children toward running, but both discovered they had talent.

“I looked at it like a sport, but it was just a normal thing to do,” Alyshia said. “I just happened to be good at it. When I was running, I was taking first place. It just kind of came natural.”

While running bloodlines don’t always predict success for the next generation, Isaac clearly had talent, and Duarte predicted he would eventually win a CIF title before he even got to high school.

“With others, you figure the genes are there,” Duarte said, “With Isaac, one always suspected he had talent, the genes were there, but 90 percent of it is what’s in his head.”

As he finished his high school career at Buchanan High School in Clovis for the CIF Championships, Chavez left no doubt about his legacy as one of the most decorated runners ever in his family, Barstow or the High Desert.

Matthew Peters is the sports editor of the Desert Dispatch. Contact him at 256-4124 or

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