When Exeter cross country coach Isaac Gonzales first saw Yesenia Silva at practice, he thought she would never be successful in the sport.
She looked like a quitter and sounded like a whiner.
So he ignored her.
"At first, I was really like a wimp," Silva said.
Three seasons later, the then sophomore whiner is now a two-time Division IV Central Section title winner. And that's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to the senior's long list of accolades:
* Two-time Visalia Times-Delta/Tulare Advance-Register girls cross country runner of the year.
* Two-time Central Sequoia League champion.
* Fifth place at the 2012 CIF Division IV State Championships.
Gonzales may have ignored Silva at first, but he didn't give up on her. Silva didn't give up either, not even after trying the sport out for the first time in 105-degree heat.
"I know it's hot," the coach said to his new recruit. "Do me a favor. Give it two or three weeks before you decide to quit. She realized after three weeks that she was doing something special that not a lot of kids can do."
Silva admits to being scared during that initial month. She didn't want to be the "slow one." Looking back -- and seeing a trail of opponents in her wake -- she said "it just turned out differently."
It all started when a teacher saw her running the mile in a physical education class and asked her if she ran cross country. Silva's reply: "No, what's that? I think I'll give it a try."
"Working with Yesenia is extra special because when she came out she was so green," Gonzales said. "She didn't run this winter (in 2009) and she ran a 5:13 mile -- what? This girl has got something here. Now what do I have to do to keep her healthy."
As she competed, Silva began to realize that she was good at this sport she had never hear of, so she started getting serious.
Gonzales says she is his most reliable runner when it comes to preparation. While he needs to constantly check in on some of his other athletes about their eating and sleeping habits, he completely trusts Silva.
"Yesenia is pretty much set in her ways and knows what she has to do," Gonzales said.
Even so, keeping her healthy still proved to be challenging. Silva sprained her knee early in her junior season before battling the flu during the state championships.
She still finished 35th while sick. She moved up to 5th this year at full strength to meet her own goal she didn't expect to achieve.
"At the beginning, I was just in this pack of girls just running with them," Silva said. "This adrenaline came to me. I have to do this. I just went for it and I started passing all these girls all of a sudden and I finished fifth. It was surprising."
Setting goals beyond what she thinks she is capable of is a common practice for Silva. Nerves still get to her so much that she wondered if she would even finish the state meet at all.
A similar feeling came upon her at the Mt. San Antonio College Invitational, a two-day event featuring approximately 15,000 runners. Silva won her division, edging out a group of girls in sprint finish.
"It was crazy because at the beginning the hills are challenging. I wasn't sure if I was prepared or if I was going to be able to go through all the race," Silva said. "As I kept pushing myself, I kept thinking about all my training and all the stuff that I've been pushing myself to do. I knew it was going to pay off. It was mostly an experience to see what I was able to do."
Winning Valley as team as well as an individual was especially rewarding for her. Silva led a triplet of Monarchs who took the top three places before waiting to make sure the final two would finish high enough to secure the team title.
"It was a lot of adrenaline like it always is," Silva said. "Adrenaline and joy. It was pretty cool because I wasn't just thinking about myself, I was thinking about the whole team."
One thing Silva is sure of is her desire to compete in college. She doesn't have any scholarship offers yet, but the coach from Sacramento State is interested. Katie Fry, who also placed fifth at the 2010 CIF State Championships as an Exeter High School senior, earned a cross country scholarship to UC-Davis.
Not even the sophomore version of Silva would complain about that.