Before every cross country meet, Destinee Lopez calls her great grandmother, Audelia Lopez. The Golden Valley senior calls her again after the race to let her know what place she got.
"I don't keep any of my medals," Destinee said. "I give them to my great grandmother. She's the one who always believed in me, even when I didn't believe in myself.
"She's 84 years old now. She's a big reason I do what I do."
Lopez had plenty to share with her great grandmother this season. Destinee went undefeated in the Central California Conference center meets and posted the top time of any local runner at the Sac-Joaquin Section championships, crossing the finish line in 20 minutes and 15 seconds. For her efforts, Lopez is the Sun-Star Girls Cross Country Athlete of the Year.
Lopez came into this season with big hopes for Golden Valley this season.
With herself, Mariyah Banks and Rochelle Parker, the Cougars thought this was their year to win a CCC championship. However, when an injury sidelined Banks for the season, Lopez had to concentrate on winning an individual title.
"After Mariyah was unable to go, I waited a couple days to tell Destinee," Golden Valley coach Jayson Seargent said. "I wanted to see how she would compete at practice. After I told her I could tell she was going to be a league champion.
"She just had a tremendous work ethic. A great attitude. Her whole mind-set changed."
Lopez spent her junior year running in the middle of the pack during CCC races. This year, she challenged herself to set the pace.
She soon found out she was capable of not only competing with the top runners in the area, but she was able to beat them.
Her main competition was Atwater sophomore Jacqueline Magana.
"I thought if she's a sophomore and she can do it, I can do it, too," Lopez said. "I remember our first league race I was running with her. My coach was telling me to stay with her during the race.
"I remember Mariyah was at the finish line and she was yelling, 'Take it right now.'
"I think I won by 4 seconds."
Lopez went undefeated in the three CCC center meets.