Life isn't always easy, Cristal Sanchez knows first-hand. The 17-year-old Righetti High graduate was born deaf.
"It was a bit of a struggle trying to fit in when you're the only one who's deaf and everyone around you is hearing. You're trying to fit in with everybody."
Cristal communicates with American Sign Language. That too has its challenges, living in a Spanish speaking household.
"My mom learned a little bit of sign, just a little bit to talk with me about a few things," Cristal signed. "My sisters can communicate pretty good. My dad doesn't know any sign, or very little."
Cristal is shy and keeps to herself, but once she got enrolled at Allan Hancock College, her mom challenged her to branch out.
"She wanted me to join a competition and racing," Cristal signed. "She thought it would be really good for me, I'm not really sure why."
Having never run before, Cristal joined the Bulldogs' cross country team with head coach Louie Quintana. It's been a big change of pace for both parties.
"I love challenges. I think it's great to have something different," Quintana said. "In cross country, we've got no subs, no bench, no referees, so guess what, you all run."
"It's been really tough," Cristal signed. "It's a lot of hardwork, a lot of training."
A coach and athlete relationship relies on communication. Since Quintana doesn't know a lot of sign language, he and Cristal talk through her two interpreters, Elijah and Julia.
"Sometimes, without interpreters, I get stuck. Having others to help me out and having a coach trying to talk to me, I don't always know what's going on," Cristal signed.
"It's great. I'm always looking around for him," Quintana added. "I look to my right and my left like, 'Where's he at?' It makes my job much, much easier."
Cristal has also developed a bond with her teammates even though communication is a work in progress.
"I think she's really nice, and I like her determination to try a new sport that she's never done," fellow freshman runner Sierra Skinner said.
"All the girls look at me, see that I'm deaf, and they try to figure out, 'How do I communicate with you? I don't know sign.' It's nice that they are trying to learn a little bit of sign," Cristal signed.
From the start of the race, to the finish, she has learned to push through the pain. But persevering is nothing new for Cristal.
"It kind of feels nice," Cristal signed. "You feel satisfied. You're done."
"When she runs, it doesn't seem like a smile when she's running out there," Quintana joked. "But when she gets done, she has a smile because there isn't another choice after that."
Actions speak louder than words, Cristal proves that every day. She hopes others can find the strength to do the same.
"I know it can be a lot of pressure, you can feel alone and shy. I would try to tell them to get out there. I'm trying it. I'm out here," Cristal signed. "Even though you struggle with communication, just go for it and try it."