For someone with a vocal cord dysfunction, Dede Salcedo is pretty talkative.
She likes talking about running, her new life at Stanislaus State, her hometown and Kevin Costner. Her upbeat personality has been the talk of her peers and her positive outlook has been praised by her coach.
However, Devianna (her given name) is humble. She won’t brag about the multiple championship medals she owns and hundreds of newspaper and magazine clippings her parents stashed in boxes back home in McFarland, just north of Bakersfield.
In fact, vocal cord dysfunction has little to do with the ability to talk.
Despite having a condition that can make breathing difficult, the freshman cross country runner puts in at least 50 miles a week in training.
“She is becoming one of our top athletes, really quickly,” said Darren Holman, Stan State’s cross country head coach. “Having a lot of natural talent gives you a steep improvement curve.”
“Her improvement curve is so steep that she has exponentially improved every single week as she gets into better shape. She’s improving so much, I really don’t know how fast she’s going to run this year.”
Salcedo is one of the top two runners on the current team with a number of Stan State stars redshirting the season.
She’s competed in two of the team’s three meets this year, placing second at the Argonaut Invitational and third in the Kim Duyst Invite. She missed the team’s third meet in Sacramento to attend her sister’s wedding. She will race at the California Collegiate Athletic Association championships later this month in Arcata.
So, where did her running talents come from? Maybe it’s in the water of McFarland, the small farming town made famous by the Disney movie “McFarland, USA,” based on the story of the high school’s first state championship in cross country.
“Yes, everyone in McFarland runs!” Salcedo said excitedly.
Maybe she was born with it.
The middle of three daughters to Frances and Samuel, who works in the oil industry, Dede Salcedo played soccer before deciding to run with her older sister, Jasmine.
“My mom used to say ‘you’re just running up and down the fields and not touching the ball, go run with your sister’,” Salcedo said.
It’s a good thing she did.
Ever since she traded in soccer cleats for running shoes, she dominated the sport as a youth. Aside from winning just about every race in the area as a kid, she was the amateur cross country national champion at age 10. Salcedo also won multiple regional championships, and at age 12, she won the USATF National Junior Olympic Cross Country championship, by 14 seconds.
In high school, she led the Cougars to sectional championships and was the CIF Central Section’s Runner of the Year as a sophomore in 2016.
Then, “that thing” in her throat became an issue.
“(The doctors) didn’t know what it was at first,” she said. “They thought it was asthma, and I knew I didn’t have asthma. They said it was mental. (The newspapers) said I was injury prone. There was a lot of pressure.”
After numerous doctors’ visits and trips to Los Angeles to see specialists, Salcedo discovered her vocal cord muscles tighten when she runs, making breathing difficult. Without treatment available, she learned to control her breathing. Now, Holman works with her every day with conditioning and fitness.
“There had been times when I almost passed out during races, or cramped up due to lack of oxygen,” Salcedo said. “But I’ve learned to control it and I am still learning (breathing techniques).”.
With the vocal cord challenge, coupled with the fact the CIF forced McFarland to compete in Division I, Salcedo fell off the recruiting radar a little. Still, she was highly sought after and received many scholarship offers by colleges across the country.
She chose Stanislaus State because of Holman, who continued to show interest and vowed to help train her to reach her ultimate goal of competing for a spot on the Olympic team. Plus, Turlock, with all of its traffic lights, is “not too far away from home.”
“(McFarland) finally has a stop light, a Rite-Aid and a Taco Bell,” said Salcedo, who thinks the notoriety from the movie helped with the rapid growth and upgrades of the town.
“Dede is the fastest runner to come out of McFarland,” Holman stated. “She was one of the fastest high school freshmen girls in the country. She was running a sub-five minute mile as a freshman!”
Yes, she’s the fastest runner from McFarland even with all of those state champions ahead of her. This includes the 1987 boys team, featured in the motion picture, that won the school’s first of nine state titles.
The rich history of distance running in McFarland and the stories told in the movie served as inspirations for kids growing up in the little town off Highway 99.
“I’ve watched the movie 50 plus times. That’s all we did when the movie came out,” said Salcedo, who was invited to walk the red carpet during the movie premiere in Bakersfield, where she met Kevin Costner. “Everyone in town probably owns a copy.”
Many of the runners featured in the film are still helping shape these young McFarlanders’ lives. Johnny Sameniego was Dede’s middle school PE teacher, Danny Diaz was her high school counselor and Thomas Valles was one of her coaches.
Jim White, the legendary coach portrayed by Costner, still rides his bicycle alongside runners during practices in the orange groves and around the same dirt track.
Holman, who actually runs with his team during training, believes Salcedo will be adding to her trophy case with more national championships in her future.
“The absolute desire to win races is something you are either born with or you are not. And she has that desire. She’s out there trying to win every race.” Holman explains. “When you combine the desire with talent, which she has shown with her pedigree, the odds of her becoming a really, really successful athlete are in her favor.”