CLAREMONT, Calif. — Most people who live on the East Coast fantasize during heavy snowstorms about moving to warmer weather. Frank Ramirez did the exact opposite.
Ramirez moved from sunny, Southern California right into one of the coldest areas of the country, Western New York, to attend Rochester.
“The first question people ask me is why the heck did you do it?” Ramirez said. “They are shocked when I say I wanted something completely different from nice weather. I wanted to be as far away from home as possible. I just wanted a complete change.”
He got that and then some. Rochester is about 75 miles east of Buffalo, N.Y. and though it doesn’t get the lake effect snow, it does receive the bitter winter cold. But with chattering teeth, Ramirez basked in the climate, even if it wasn’t the ideal place to train for 800 meters — his specialty.
The weather wasn’t completely foreign to Ramirez. An avid skier, Ramirez hit the slopes of Southern California frequently, but this was the first time living in the adverse conditions.
“It’s a big difference living in the snow than just being there for a day and coming back to the nice weather,” Ramirez said. “Dealing every day with bone chilling cold was the hardest thing, but that is what I wanted. I got used to it pretty quick.”
It took longer for his parents to accept his decision. His mother is Spanish, his father Columbian, and he came from a tight-knit family and the news was a bombshell.
“I got a little tear from my mom,” Ramirez said. “My dad said there was a college nearby I got into why wasn’t I going there? I told them I wanted to go far away. They were definitely torn up when I told them that was my choice. They supported me 100 percent but it was tough on them when I left.”
Ramirez bypassed Division I UC Santa Barbara and Loyola Marymount, both a manageable drive from his Woodland Hills home.
“When I was in high school at the end of my first semester, I had said I was going to stay nearby,” Ramirez said. “I thought I’m going to be less than an hour away from home, but I don’t know what happened I just woke up one morning and the switch went off in my head. I just knew I needed something different.”
His first two years at Rochester didn’t go as he had hoped.
“I struggled heavily when I first went out there,” Ramirez said. “I had a lot of injuries my first two years. I had knee injuries, chronic pain in both knees. I overtrained, I did too many miles and hadn’t strengthened my legs as much as I should. I learned from those mistakes.”
Another life-changing decision Ramirez made was to take a season off and went to study in Spain. Ramirez double majored in Spain and Biology and focused more on studies than athletics.
“I can’t say enough how much it helped me,” Ramirez said. “It took my mind off the injuries and I came back totally refreshed. I did barely any running when I was there. I played a lot of soccer and did some hiking, but I didn’t do any running.”
It wasn’t a popular decision with his coach.
“When my coach heard that he thought I was going to come back out of shape, but for me it was the complete opposite,” Ramirez said. “I was like a new guy coming back.”
His results certainly showed it. He had the eighth fastest time in Division III for the year and easily qualified for this week’s championship.
Last year, he ran in the race and thought his mom would finally get to see him race, but her flight was overbooked and she never got out of Los Angeles.
“When I got that text it was heartbreaking,” Ramirez said. “I don’t know if it affected my race, but I did not have a good race.”
This time, he has a chance to make it right. Ramirez is about 55 miles from his home, and his family is coming out to watch his last collegiate race. Ramirez is entered in the 800 meters and this will be the first time anyone in his family will see him race live.
“This is going to be a special day, not only my parents, but extended family, and friends,” Ramirez said. “At least 15 to 20 people are coming but my parents might be bringing more. They love bringing the crowd. I’m sure I am going to hear them all while I am running.”
One person’s voice he’ll recognize immediately will be his father’s, who has a special phrase he yells to his son in every race since Ramirez was a youngster.
“With a 150 meters left in every race since I was 8 years old he would yell ‘chili pepper,’” Ramirez said. “That was my signal to give it everything I had.”
It is just extra motivation Ramirez welcomes for a perfect ending to his collegiate career.
“It’s going to be different to have all these people rooting for me, but I think it’s going to push me harder,” Ramirez said. “It’s going to make me nervous, I don’t want to disappoint them, but I think it’s going to kick in my adrenaline more. I’m going to come out strong.”