Next Level Seniors: Boasting High Self-Esteem and Low Sprint Times, Jonny Hortaleza Heads to Chapman University


Lukas Werner

At Chapman University, senior Jonny Hortaleza will be majoring in Biology and hopes to become a physician’s assistant after college. This passion sparked from an experience he had as a child when his uncle passed away from pancreatic cancer.

Avery Rush, Editor in Chief

There was a time in senior Jonny Hortaleza’s life during which he would not call himself a noteworthy athlete. As an underclassman, he ran track and played basketball — basketball being the sport he was most serious about.

Now as an almost-graduated senior, Hortaleza views himself in an entirely different light, with his newfound confidence and skills carrying him to Orange, California, where he will run track for Chapman University.

His journey from aspiring basketball player to collegiate track athlete started when Hortaleza decided he did not want to be a “floater” anymore. Both in school and in sports, he said that he felt he was just going through the motions. This changed soon after the pandemic hit when Hortaleza’s experience at Resolute Track Club — where they say RTC for short — allowed him to recognize his own potential.

Just before the start of his junior year, Hortaleza started running for RTC after one of his teammates on the La Salle track team encouraged him to do so. By this time, Hortaleza was no longer a basketball athlete after leaving the team halfway through his sophomore season, so track was his only sport.

“During quarantine, you couldn’t really go to the gym, and I love fitness and working out,” Hortaleza said. In order to stay in shape while gyms were closed due to the pandemic, he decided to start working out at RTC, since their gym was able to remain open as long as mask guidelines were enforced. 

When Hortaleza first started running for a club track team, being recruited to play in college was not yet even on his radar, not because he wasn’t interested, but because he didn’t know that was something he was capable of doing. 

In an unofficial 100-meter sprint at RTC, Hortaleza set a new personal record, but his time was “not a college time, or a time colleges would want to see in a sprinter,” he said. Even though his time was not particularly impressive, he remembers thinking, “Whatever, I’m still doing this for fun. I’m still gonna keep going. Right?’”

Someone in senior Jonny Hortaleza’s life that plays a major role in keeping up his motivation is his club track coach, Christina Whitney. (Lukas Werner)

Hortaleza recalled that his ability as an athlete grew rapidly after joining RTC, which resulted in him being noticed by track coaches at a variety of colleges. “I improved so much that I started getting interest and looks from colleges,” he said. “That was really shocking to me and that was a big deal to me because I didn’t think I was ever going to get that kind of attention from college coaches.”

Six months after beating his personal record, Hortaleza ran in his first official 100-meter race with the club, where he shaved half of a second off of his best time. “It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s a lot,” he said. “It’s huge.”

That feat caused Hortaleza’s mindset as a runner to change drastically.

“I never thought I could do that, even with hard work,” he said. “I saw my time and I was like ‘Wow, I can really do something.’”

An important figure in Hortaleza’s life who has contributed to his evolution as an athlete is his club track coach, Christina Whitney. “She has been so supportive of me and my career as a track athlete,” Hortaleza said. “She has helped me so much. Without her, I could not be the athlete and person I am today.”

One specific aspect of Hortaleza’s track career that has been influenced by Whitney is the mindset he has going into each race. As he continued to train with RTC, Whitney’s support aided his journey to becoming a more confident athlete.

“You really have to believe that you’re going to be the one finishing at the top of the race,” he said. “How are you going to be successful if you don’t believe you’re going to be successful?”

Hortaleza maintains this same ideal in regard to his schoolwork  — another area of his life in which his attitude has undergone a transformation. “I got good grades in middle school but I was floating, you know what I mean?” he said. “Even when I tried, I didn’t really know what I was doing.”

When he first started high school, senior Jonny Hortaleza anticipated that he would play basketball for all four years of high school, as he only viewed track as a hobby at the time. (Lukas Werner)

In early May, Hortaleza was notified by some members of La Salle’s administration that he had been named one of the three salutatorians selected from the class of 2022. This achievement symbolizes four years of academic rigor and excellence, but Hortaleza does not feel that school was something he truly devoted himself to until the beginning of the pandemic. 

“Freshman and sophomore year I was just going through it — going through the day,” he said. “I just did my work. Anything to earn the grades.”

This routine was effective enough for Hortaleza to maintain good grades, but as his classes started to become more difficult and his schedule began to fill up, he said that he had no choice but to change the approach he took to school. “It really hit me during COVID, and even this year too,” he said. “Last year I took four AP and Honors classes, and it was online so it was harder to actually learn. I feel like I really earned my grades last year and this year.”

Hortaleza has “always been a science guy,” he said. This interest is reflected in his plan to major in Biology at Chapman, and with this degree, he plans to go on to become a physician’s assistant. 

A passion for medicine was planted in Hortaleza when he was seven years old after losing his uncle to pancreatic cancer — cancer that was only detected after his uncle had visited five different doctors.

After Hortaleza’s uncle began experiencing various inexplicable symptoms of poor health, he visited multiple doctors searching for answers. He faced misdiagnoses until he was finally diagnosed with the cancer that took his life, which was already in its later stages when it was caught. “It was too late to save him at that point,” Hortaleza said.

For Hortaleza, witnessing his uncle’s journey with cancer shined a light on certain gaps present in medical treatment, compelling him to pursue a career in medicine himself.

This is another experience of Hortaleza’s that provided him with the direction he once felt he lacked.

At Chapman University, senior Jonny Hortaleza will be majoring in Biology and hopes to become a physician’s assistant after college. This passion sparked from an experience he had as a child when his uncle passed away from pancreatic cancer. (Lukas Werner)

Aside from the athletic and academic clarity that Hortaleza gained during high school, he also discovered a novel sense of self-assuredness in his social life.

Hortaleza expressed that he is a naturally shy person; however, his friendship with his RTC teammate Marcus Ludes has allowed him to feel more comfortable being outgoing, and to better understand that the anxiety he feels in social settings is not something he is alone in.

“He revealed to me, “‘I’m not great with people either,’” he said. “When I saw someone like Marcus who is viewed as someone who is very outgoing… seeing him be shy all of the sudden makes me embrace myself a bit more.”

This revelation translates to all aspects of Hortaleza’s life in which he has had to work towards finding confidence. From his adapting skills as an athlete and student to his ability to be sure of his own actions in social situations, the experiences he has endured over the past four years have proven to him that hard work does pay off.