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Jacob Bilvado honors his late grandfather with his running

12:00 AM, Nov. 23, 2012 EST

El Diamante cross country runner Jacob Bilvado finishes in first place during an Oct. 17 West Yosemite League dual meet against Redwood at Mooney Grove Park in Visalia. / John Noell

Jacob Bilvado admits he does a lot of thinking when he runs.

The El Diamante sophomore thinks about how hard he has to push himself during a race, how good a win will feel and how he eventually hopes competing in cross country will earn him a college scholarship.

But the thoughts racing in his head were much different while racing on Oct. 17.

Just hours after attending his grandfather's funeral, Bilvado competed in a West Yosemite League dual meet against Redwood at Mooney Grove Park.

After enduring an emotional ceremony, Bilvado changed out of his suit, slipped into his El Diamante cross country uniform and competed in honor of his late grandfather, Steve Bilvado.

"I was a lot more serious," Jacob said. "I was very focused. I knew I had to be in that mindset that I have to win this race."

Bilvado ran the most emotional race of his life, and he finished the 3.1-mile course in a time of 16 minutes, 38 seconds for the win.

"It was a hard day for me," said Bilvado, who turns 16 today. "All the memories came back. I knew I couldn't dwell on it. Why stay in a sad state of mind? I just went in and ran my race and had a good time."

Bilvado's mother, Teresa, told him he didn't have to run in the race, but running that day meant a lot to Jacob.

He and his grandfather had a close relationship. It is because of his grandfather that he pushes himself to run.

Steve Bilvado competed in cross country and track and field at Tulare Union High School and coached in Tulare.

Teresa was also a successful runner at Golden West High School where she helped the Trailblazers win a team Central Section championship.

Jacob enjoyed having his grandfather attending his meets even though he felt added pressure when he was there, he said.

"He wasn't forcing me, but I knew I had to do good to impress him and show him I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing," he said.

Teresa said her father had high expectations for his children and grandchildren.

"We tried our hardest to meet those standards," Teresa said. "He passed that on to me and I passed it down to Jacob. If Jacob didn't run a good race, he didn't get praise. Depending on the words his Papa would say, that determined what kind of a race Jacob ran."

Jacob said he didn't feel pressure on the day of his grandfather's funeral.

It was a different feeling. He was sad because his grandfather wasn't there to watch him, but he was happy because family members who usually don't get to watch him run were there to support him.

"I did it for him," Jacob said. "I did what I was supposed to do and had fun with it."

El Diamante coach Ben Gimlin said it was inspiring just to watch Jacob run that day.

"We all knew it would be an emotional day," Gimlin said. "We were all at the service and you knew Jacob really wanted to race and do it for his grandpa. Nothing was going to stop him. It was really neat to see."

Steve Bilvado was a well-respected member of the local cross country community.

He spent the last few years of his life as a starter for many of the local races.

If Steve Bilvado was known as "The Starter," it might be fitting to start calling Jacob Bilvado "The Finisher," because he has been getting better and better at finishing races faster during the course of the season.

On Oct. 17, he won a 3.-1 mile race with a time of 16:38.

During the West Yosemite League championship meet, he won with a time of 15:58.

And just last week, he won the Central Section Division II championship with a time of 15:49.

"A lot of it is training, but a lot of it is mental," Jacob said of his improvement. "I pushed myself a lot harder this year. I said I wanted to be a better runner. I want to be great. With my grandpa passing away, I knew he wanted me to be a great runner. I pushed myself for him."

The next step for Jacob is the CIF State championship meet, which is Saturday.

"I'm excited," Jacob said. "There are some friends I get to see from my running camp that I haven't seen. Just to be there, just to say you're one of the top in the state and to get that opportunity is nice."

Jacob is happy to be there, but Gimlin says it is a great opportunity for him to make a name for himself.

"A lot of times we get people who qualify for state and take the week off and finish 130th but say they made it to state," Gimlin said. "I told Jacob, 'The way you're running right now, you can really do something special and make a statement.' "




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Rank School Record
1 Mission Oak High School
Tulare, CA
2 El Diamante HS
Visalia, CA
3 Mt. Whitney High School
Visalia, CA
4 Redwood High School
Visalia, CA
5 Central Valley Christian School
Visalia, CA