Connecting the Dots
Trail Runner|Fall 2021
How Laura Cortez uses her passion for trails to build community.
By Zoe Rom

When Laura Cortez started running, she couldn’t even finish a mile.

She grew up playing soccer in San Antonio, as part of a vibrant and connected Latino community. Her experience in soccer led her to be curious about running, and so she went out for her high school track team. In her debut event, she tripped and fell during the 800 (meters).

She walked onto the team at the University of North Texas, where she became very close with her teammates from a diverse range of backgrounds and ethnicities.

The short distances never felt very homey to Cortez. “I was really bad at track, and every day was horrible.” But she kept at it, allured by the appeal of longer distances. “I felt like the 5k wasn’t long enough, and I wasn’t smart enough to compete at the 10k.” But she kept running and training.

After college, Cortez moved to Portland, Oregon, where her then coach, David Roche, who she had met on Twitter, encouraged her to try trails.

Pivoting towards the trail gave Cortez a sense of mental ease. After college, she had joined so many run clubs and groups that felt isolating and unwelcoming, but the trails were different.

“The trail community was so much more welcoming, I felt so much more at home,” says Cortez.

In her first trail race, a 30k that raced through the sunset, Cortez forgot a headlamp and was forced to use her cellphone as a flashlight. When she stumbled and fell in the dark, someone stopped to help her up. “That’s why I stuck with it,” says Cortez. The people are so kind and welcoming.”

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