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Shortly after graduating from Righetti High School last year, Crystal Sanchez took up a new activity. That activity was running.

"I'd never been a runner before," said Sanchez, who was born deaf. "I wanted to prove a deaf student can do everything a hearing student can do."

Shortly after becoming a runner, Sanchez became the first deaf athlete to compete for Hancock College. The freshman runs for veteran Hancock coach Louie Quintana's women's cross country team.

"It was hard at first," Sanchez said of being a novice runner and tackling college-level running workouts. "But it's getting easier."

She did not compete in athletics at Righetti High.

"She's improving every day," Quintana says.

With San Marcos driving toward a potential winning touchdown, Diaz knocked the ball away from Royals running back Henry Herrera. Sammy Benitez recovered the ball for the Saints at the Santa Maria 33, and the Saints hung on for a 33-29 cross-section win at their Ralph Baldiviez Stadium Friday night.

On Aug. 23, Sanchez made history, becoming the first deaf athlete in Hancock history to compete intercollegiately when she ran at the Oxnard Invitational.

Sanchez spoke through an interpreter, Julia Townsend, Hancock College Coordinator of Interpreter and and Communication Services, during a break in a recent team workout.

She is the first deaf athlete to compete at Hancock College, but Sanchez is not the first deaf athlete Quintana has ever coached.

Quintana was previously a veteran cross country and track coach at Righetti. While he was there, "I coached a deaf athlete on the track team, a boy," Quintana said. "He did the 880 and the pole vault."

Communicating with the athlete "was very challenging," Quintana acknowledged. "Before the 880, I would have to stand behind him and tap him on the back," to tell the athlete the race was starting.

Quintana said it is also a challenge for him and his other runners to communicate with Sanchez, but they manage.

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"We do it mainly through an interpreter," Quintana said. "We also text (with Sanchez) some."

"I really like being on the team, and I really like the girls on the team," said Sanchez. "It's a lot of fun."

The true freshman said she liked the 5K course at the Oxnard Invitational. One of the main reasons she liked it was, "It was mostly flat," Sanchez said.

She chuckled. "Not that I really dislike hills, but it's taking me awhile to catch up to my teammates on the hills. I'm not used to them yet. I like courses that are flat."

Quintana said that Sanchez has handled a gradually increasing workload well.

"Sometimes I have runners running for an hour, and that's just too long for her. She hasn't been running long enough yet," the veteran coach said.

"We have her running half an hour, and she runs the whole half hour."

Sanchez is taking a full load of classes at Hancock, 12 units. She said she has been in regular education classes throughout her academic career, with interpreters present.

In some years past, the Hancock women's cross country team has not fielded enough runners to score. This year, Sanchez has helped Quintana have a full complement of seven runners.

When a reporter asked Sanchez if she will run track next spring, Quintana answered with an emphatic "Yes!"

Sanchez responded, "I guess so," right after, but then seemed to warm more to the idea in the seconds thereafter.

The freshman said she is undecided at this time on her college major.

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Sports Reporter

Kenny Cress, sportswriter for the Santa Maria Times since September of 2000. BA in political science from Cal Poly Pomona. BA in journalism from Cal State Northridge.