by Vanessa Saltos
Isabel Perez-Zoghbi is a 2nd year student from Merced, California. Perez-Zoghbi was a long distance runner throughout her whole life, running cross country and track. She thought her career would be done after highschool and was planning on attending Cal Poly Humboldt in Fall 2022. While scrolling through social media, she came across a video of Cal Poly Humboldt’s very own Joy Hano running the 60-meter hurdles.
“I saw Joy and I thought she was amazing, and I was just like clearly they must have some good hurdles coaches there because Joy’s doing fantastic,” Perez-Zoghbi said.
Once realizing there was a track program, she took it upon herself to direct message Hano. According to Hano, Perez-Zoghbi asked about the program, what Hano’s favorite part about running in college was, and how she wanted to get better at hurdles. Perez-Zoghbi had only started running hurdles her junior year of high school, so she saw this as a learning opportunity. This direct message on Instagram led to a recruitment visit with the track coaches, and Hano was able to meet her in person for the first time.
“Meeting her for that first time, it got me excited about hurdles again cause I could just feel her pure love for the sport, and at that point in my season I was, not going throughout, but it was just a low part of season,” Hano said. “Having her energy around, even just on her recruit visit, brought up my energy, brought up [my] team’s energy, and I just had a great feeling about her.”
Hano was right about that feeling, because during Perez-Zoghbi’s first year at Cal Poly Humboldt she made huge waves in the program. She qualified for the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field National Championships after running a personal record of 1:00.54 in the 400-meter hurdles. At Nationals in Colorado, she finished nineteenth overall.
During her 2023 campaign, she did face some setbacks. Dealing with a hamstring injury, she was kept from competing in a couple of races. Hano recalls a moment at the 2023 Stanford Invitational where Perez-Zoghbi was scratched from the weekend last minute due to her hamstring. Hano and Perez-Zoghbi took walks around Stanford’s facilities and reminded each other about the amazing opportunities they both have.
“Isa’s really good about remaining grateful, and it was just during that weekend that I just had to remind her we are in an amazing opportunity to do the thing we love and if anything, missing this right now is just going to make you want it more,” Hano said. “Sure enough after that point in season she continued to rehab her hamstring, she continued to play smarter not harder with her hamstring and made the most out of every day she could.”
The knowledge that her coaches bring has helped grow her obsession with the sport. Her teammates contribute to this as well. They inspire her daily with their dedication to training and work ethic. She sees how happy people are just to be given the opportunity to participate. What keeps Perez-Zoghbi motivated through it all is her love for pushing herself to her limits.
“I am always trying to improve and get a better time, and push myself to where I am like dying at the end of practice and I’m like on the floor, can’t breathe,” Perez-Zoghbi said. “Just like that physical challenge and mental challenge of pushing yourself to your limit that’s why I do it.”
Her teammates feed off of this mindset as well. Hano views her as a role model, despite Perez-Zoghbi being younger. Hano knows that whenever they train together, there will be no slacking of any kind. This has only pushed Hano mentally and physically. Her coaches see this determination as well. Cal Poly Humboldt Assistant Sprint and Hurdles coach Kate Eilers expressed Perez-Zoghbi’s tenacity on the track and compared her competitive drive to that of a veteran.
“I love coaching Isabel. She recognizes the value of the time she has here as an athlete and uses every second of it. She is always looking to improve, asking questions and diligently implementing feedback,” Eilers said. “She’s a joy to coach, a supportive teammate and an all around incredible person who knows how to pursue success.”
Perez-Zoghbi expressed her goals for this upcoming season, which are becoming an All-American and breaking the school record. The current record holder is Alyssabeth DeJerez with a time of 58.68 in 2017. The main goal this season though is winning the conference. Currently Perez-Zoghbi is training for the 2024 season which is set to start on Feb. 18.