EL PASO, TX (KTSM) – The 50th anniversary of Title IX is Thursday June 23, 2022 and El Paso Community College (EPCC) will commemorate the anniversary by sharing the story of Merari Valenzuela, a student-athlete who ran on the EPCC Cross Country and half marathon teams and also graduated with an associate degree in 2018.

The landmark legislation requires equal funding be given to men’s and women’s sports. It prohibits discrimination based on sex for educational institutions receiving federal financial assistance.

Valenzuela remembers her hardest race like it was yesterday, according to EPCC. It was 2017 in Topeka, Kansas, where she was running on EPCC’s team in the NJCAA Half Marathon championship. As she approached mile eleven of the 13.1-mile race, she felt her legs giving out. That’s when she saw Coach Felix Hinojosa come over the hill on his red bike to ask her, “Are you going to give up now?” Merari steeled herself and told him no, pushing to complete the course and collapsing at the finish. She was taken to the medical tent where she received treatment for low blood sugar. EMS commented that they weren’t sure how she finished the race.

Merari is proud of her perseverance in this race and contributing to her team winning runner-up in the half marathon competition and Academic Team of the Year. This experience taught Merari that “obstacles in your life are inevitable, but it is up to you to determine your future.”

Becoming a collegiate athlete was Merari’s dream from a young age. While in her senior year at El Paso High School, she was thrilled when EPCC offered her a full scholarship for running. Then, when she injured her knee at a Varsity Basketball team practice at the beginning of the season, she was devastated. Merari opted to miss the remainder of the basketball season and get surgery, hoping she could still accomplish her goal to run in college. The recovery from surgery was grueling. Merari had to learn to walk again and couldn’t run for eight months. When she did run, she felt pain in the back of her knee. At the suggestion of Coach Hinojosa, she red-shirted and didn’t run her first year at EPCC, focusing completely on recovering. Her second year she was able to run. The whole time she was at EPCC, Coach Hinojosa kept her on a full academic scholarship.  

EPCC Kinesiology Professor Miguel Bonilla, who is also an Assistant Coach to the Half Marathon and Cross Country Teams, explains why Merari was able to keep her scholarship despite her injuries and the importance of academics for EPCC student-athletes.

Most of the athletes we recruit are given the opportunity to use their athletic ability to offset the expense of their education. Therefore, we motivate and encourage them to perform at the highest level in the classroom just as much as out on the Cross-Country course. We preach a high GPA will open more doors at the four-year university level. The best accomplishment we can get from the program is an invitation from our former student-athletes to their university graduations. 

Miguel Bonilla, Kinesiology professor/ assistant coach to half-marathon & Cross Country team, El Paso Community College (EPCC)

Merari graduated from EPCC in 2018 with a degree in Biology. “I am most proud of my academic success at EPCC. By the end of my academic career at EPCC, I earned a GPA of 3.95. Due to my academic success at EPCC, I was awarded two academic scholarships to attend NMSU.” Merari graduated from New Mexico State University in Biology in 2020 with minors in Chemistry and Biochemistry. Since that time, she’s been working as a medical scribe and is currently applying to schools to become a Physician’s Assistant. 

Merari is grateful for everything she learned as an athlete and in the classroom while she was at EPCC, but most of all, she’s glad for what she learned about herself. “EPCC has taught me that nothing in this life is handed to you and with hard work and dedication, anything is possible. College did not only give me an education, but it also taught how to prioritize my life, self-discipline, and determination.”

EPCC is proud to celebrate Title IX on its anniversary and the many female student-athletes like Merari who have competed, learned, and achieved their dreams at EPCC.

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