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Jacqueline Hiracheta: The Story of the Foothill High School Runner and the Race that Defined Her Character

By Kyle Wylie, Coordinator of School Support Services

Kern High School District

 

Last November, many cross country teams from across Kern County gathered at Hart Park to compete in one of the last races of the season in the Kern County Championships. Many Varsity runners would continue on after this race to compete in the CIF championships at the valley and state levels, but for the freshmen and sophomores that were racing on the Frosh/Soph teams, this was the last race of the season them. For many coaches, this was a chance for their younger runners to finish the season off with positive momentum and compete for a varsity position the next year.

 

Jacqueline Hiracheta (Far Left) was a solid runner for Foothill High School Girls Frosh Soph team last year

 

The Frosh/Soph runners started their race and for the young Foothill Trojans Frosh Soph Girls Team, the race was going in their favor as many of their girls were in front of the pack. Throughout the race, the girls maintained their pace and it was clear that the Trojans were going to finish in 1st place as a team. For Freshman, Jacqueline (Jackie) Hiracheta, she was running a solid race, positioning herself to receive a medal as she was slated to finish just inside the Top 10. “It felt nice being in front of the pack because it was the last race and I had a feeling my team was going to win,” stated Hiracheta.

 

However, with about a half mile remaining in the race, Jackie was faced with a situation that defined the young runner. As Jackie approached the remaining half mile she noticed a Ridgeview High School runner that was on the ground and not moving. Jackie recalls, “She was in front of me the whole race as she was pretty fast. As I came near the ranger station, I noticed her by a few bushes and trees, laying there with her eyes shut and she wasn’t moving.” Without hesitation, Jackie went to the Ridgeview runner and tried to comfort her by grabbing her hand to see if she was ok but the runner wasn’t responding. Sacrificing her chance at a medal and a first place finish for her team, Jackie stayed with the Ridgeview runner as others passed on their way to finish the race. A few onlookers that were near the path were flagged down by Jackie and she told them to find someone to call 911 because the runner needed an ambulance and fast. One of the onlookers found KHSD Officer John Money and Ridgeview Coach Adam Setser, who were directing runner traffic at the time, indicating that a runner was down on the path. Quickly, Setser and Money along with an athletic trainer came on the path and found the fallen Ridgeview runner who was completely unconscious at the time. They also found Jackie right there with the runner, providing comfort. The ambulance was called as the runner remained unconscious. The ambulance quickly came and the runner was immediately taken to a local hospital where she received care. Officer Money praised Jackie’s integrity, “I visited the Ridgeview runner in the hospital later that night to check on her welfare and if it wasn’t for Jackie stopping when she did, I don’t know if the runner would have made it. The runner had some pre-existing conditions that require immediate attention if something goes wrong and Jackie provided that for her.” Head Coach Adam Setser of Ridgeview High School echoes similar sentiments about Jackie, “My runner was unconscious for some time and without the kind, selfless actions of Jacqueline, things could have been much worse.” Moreover, Athletic Director Mike Biezad, who was helping organize the event praised Jackie’s decision to help, “It is clear that she saved a girl’s life. If Jackie didn’t stop, no one would’ve known how long this fallen runner would have had. In that moment of selflessness, Jackie epitomized what we aspire to be like at Foothill High School. We want our kids to be like Jackie.”

 

Jacqueline "Jackie" Hiracheta helped an unconscious runner from Ridgeview High School during the Kern County Championships in Cross Country. Her decision saved a life at the cost of a medal and a first place finish for her team. "I always put others first."

 

As runners came across the finish line and Jackie wasn’t one of them, her mother, Paula Lopez, became worried, wondering if something had happened to her daughter. “I wondered where my daughter was at because she normally finishes toward the front. I was thinking things like, ‘Did she fall in the water? Is she ok?’” As adults went up the path in a hurry, Lopez felt nervous. Head Cross Country Coach at Foothill, Paul Contreras, who organized the race, also wondered where his runner was at. “KHSD police told me that there was an emergency on the course and I thought that someone from Foothill might have been in trouble.” However, after a lengthy wait, Jackie was in sight and she finished the race. Officer John Money came back and communicated with Contreras that an ambulance was on its way and that space was needed to for EMT to come through. He also told Contreras as well as Lopez about Jackie’s actions in order to help this fallen runner. Money told Contreras that Jackie was waiting with fallen runner and that after he and Setser arrived, they gave Jackie the ok to finish the race. Foothill would finish in 3rd place as a team and Jackie didn’t qualify for a medal, but she did finish the race.

 

“As a coach, I want my athletes to be successful, but I also want my athletes to be good people. After the race, I told Jackie that I was more proud of what she did then trying to win the race,” states Contreras. Jackie’s mother expresses similar pride in her daughter’s action, “I was proud of my daughter because she made the right decision. There will always be races, but we only have one life and Jackie saw the value in this girl’s life. I’ve always taught my daughter to put others first above yourself and it was nice to see those words in action.” Jackie keeps her mother’s words in perspective, “I always try to put others first just as my mom has always taught me to do.”

 

Jackie was taught the value of putting others first from her mother Paula Lopez

 

When news of Jackie’s action came back to Foothill High School, Principal Gail Bentley wasn’t shocked that a Foothill student stopped to help someone in need. “Jackie’s actions didn’t surprise me because we have really thoughtful and caring students at Foothill. She had the attitude of ‘why wouldn’t I stop’ as she expects herself to respond to people in times of need. Her actions go deeper than just playing on the field or racing in a race. It’s about her character and the values that were taught to her from her family.”

 

Officer Money commented to Contreras, Setser, and others that Jackie deserved some kind of award. What foresight he had. This past April, students were nominated for various awards in the annual PEAAK Awards, an event that recognizes the best of the best in the Kern High School District. Most of the winners are seniors with a few being juniors. Very rarely does a freshman win a PEAAK Award. Jackie was nominated by three different KHSD employees, including Setser and Contreras, in the category for Most Inspirational Individual which is given to a student who exhibits sportsmanship in its finest degree. The winner is selected based on votes from every Activity Director and Athletic Director in the KHSD. Activity Director of Foothill High School, Raelyn Ruffus, volunteered to present the award for Most Inspiration Individual because it is an award that is near and dear to her heart. Ruffus won the award herself in college after sustaining a severe spinal injury while playing collegiate rugby at Chico State, becoming a quadriplegic. Her dedication and commitment to walk again inspired her teammates. “When the KHSD asked for volunteers for the PEAAK Awards, I quickly signed up to present this award because it is near and dear to my heart. I love stories that inspire others to become better human beings,” commented Ruffus. As Ruffus opened the envelope to announce the winner, a big smile came across her face and she exclaimed, “And the winner for Most Inspirational Individual is...Jacqueline Hiracheta!!!” Ruffus recalls the moment, “I was excited that a Foothill Girl won the award and one with exceptional character. Jackie is an inspiration to her classmates and to adults that know about her actions. I was thrilled for Jackie. I was thrilled for Foothill.”

 

Jackie received the Most Inspirational Individual Award at the 2017 KHSD PEAAK Awards. Foothill Activity Director Raelyn Ruffus presented her with the award.

 

This cross country season Jackie, a sophomore, will serve as the team manager for the Foothill High School Trojans as she is recovering from injury. Jackie sustained a broken fibula and torn ligaments while sliding in softball season and is currently going through physical rehabilitation. “I am bummed because I love running and I love my team.”

 

In the last few years at Foothill High School, the focus has been on S.P.I.R.I.T. - Student Pride Integrity & Respect Inspire Trojans. In the Cross Country Kern County Championships last November, Jacqueline Hiracheta stood for everything expressed in the vision of the Foothill S.P.I.R.I.T. in a race that truly defined her character and integrity. Principal Bentley expresses, “In that moment Jackie exemplified everything we stand for at Foothill and the tenants of our S.P.I.R.I.T.” 
 
Foothill is proud of Jackie's character and integrity. 
Left to Right: Head Cross Country Coach Paul Contreras, Mother Paula Lopez, Jackie, Activity Director Raelyn Ruffus, Athletic Director Mike Biezad