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HomeSportA Runner’s Olympic Dream Was in Doubt Because of His DACA Status

A Runner’s Olympic Dream Was in Doubt Because of His DACA Status


Grijalva’s family, he said, was struggling to make ends meet in Guatemala City. His parents, searching for a better life, moved with him and his two brothers to New York when he was 1. When he was 3 years old, his family moved to Fairfield, Calif., a town in the state’s Central Valley, where his father washed cars and worked at a nearby factory making cabinets. His father still lives there, while his mother and brothers have returned to Guatemala.

In Fairfield, Grijalva discovered that he loved to run — and he excelled at it. At Fairfield’s Armijo High School, he won state championships in cross-country and track and field, obliterating school records and attracting attention from college coaches. But despite being “pretty quick” in high school, Grijalva said he never thought qualifying for the Olympics was more than a fanciful dream.

Grijalva got a full-ride scholarship to Northern Arizona, where he is a senior, and helped the Lumberjacks win three N.C.A.A. cross-country championships in four years. After his big race in June, he turned professional, signing a contract with the shoe company Hoka One One.

“The opportunities I had coming to the United States provided me with so much more than I could ask for,” Grijalva said. Getting a degree and being paid to run are “probably things I never would have gotten if I had stayed in Guatemala.”

In the U.S., achieving the Olympic qualifying time of 13 minutes, 13-and-a-half seconds (which Grijalva beat by 0.36 seconds) was not enough to go to Tokyo: American runners also had to place in the top three at the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., last month. But Grijalva did not have to worry about that; as the speediest 5,000-meter runner in the history of Guatemala, with a time more than 30 seconds faster than the next best athlete, he was confirmed to the country’s Olympic delegation several weeks ago.

Often, the U.S. immigration agency can take months to process travel requests, but Jessica Smith Bobadilla, Grijalva’s lawyer, said she remained optimistic throughout the process and had been in touch with members of Congress from Arizona about finding a way to get him to Tokyo. She had argued to the government that the Olympics is both employment-related and a humanitarian event.


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