Peabody High School sophomore Catarina Rocha finished 31st out of an elite field of 40 in Saturday's 5K Foot Locker Cross Country (FLCC) National Finals, held at Balboa Park in San Diego, Calif. She was one of only six sophomores to make it this far.
Rocha qualified to race at Nationals following an impressive eighth place finish (18:27) at the Northeast Regionals on Nov. 27. She finished ahead of every female runner from Massachusetts, edging out Deerfield's Ariel Beauregard-Breton by less than a minute.
Rocha, a Peabody native, has a long lineage of successful runners in her family. Her mother, Gina Braz, was actually a track star at Peabody High nearly 25 years ago.
Braz finished 21st running the same exact track as the one her daughter ran on Saturday. When asked if Rocha grilled her mother for some tricks of the trade about the track, Rocha replied, "I didn't ask her. It's better not worrying about certain parts of the race, like hills, etc. I like to just go with what the track gives me, and adjust."
Rocha's father, Joe Rocha, and her uncle, Fernando Braz, can also be credited for Catarina's ability to be so fleet of foot. They each placed 15th in their respective Nationals races some decades ago. Braz is currently the Peabody High boys' track and field coach.
But Rocha's parents didn't try to sway their daughter to follow in their footsteps. "They didn't push me at all," Rocha said about her choice to begin running cross-country.
Surprisingly, despite Rocha's running genes, she only started running competitively this past summer. Like a basketball player who only starts playing because they're taller than everybody else, Rocha was running circles around other girls on the soccer field and only considered running track after she quit playing soccer earlier this year. Rocha took up indoor/outdoor track in the fall, and the rest is history.
During her phone interview with Peabody Patch, Rocha sounded fairly unassuming and extremely modest about Saturday's performance, as well as her future prospects.
"I was a little disappointed at first (about her 31st place finish), but looking at all the good runners that are here, it's only my first year. It's a great honor just to come here and run against the best people."
And while Rocha is still getting used to her seemingly overnight success, she didn't change anything about her routine prior to Nationals. She didn't train any differently and admittedly upheld her superstition of eating chicken parmesan before every race.
So what's next for Catarina Rocha?
"Take a week off, and then start indoors [track]," she says. As for college, Rocha hasn't decided yet where she would like to go to school. If she follows in her family's running steps, her athletic ability could take her to Boston College.