Ivy Leaf - Winter 2013
Living in Her Element
Penn State Altoona sophomore Patricia Mantero is a Puerto Rican living in Pennsylvania. She is studying biology, one of the most challenging majors offered at the University. She runs for the varsity women’s cross country team, participating in one of the most physically demanding sports among intercollegiate competition. But make no mistake—Mantero is not out of her element.
Born and raised in San Juan, Mantero attended high school at Academia del Perpetuo Socorro. She had been a soccer player, but when the season ended, she wanted something to fill the void.
“I was trying to improve my physical fitness, so I went to a meeting for cross country,” Mantero explains. “I started practicing, and I liked it so much that I started running full time.”
Mantero excelled as a runner throughout her high school career. She participated on her school’s varsity cross country and track and field teams all four years, earning the title of “Most Valuable Player” in both sports.
When it came time to search for colleges, she applied to several universities. But her first choice was Penn State, where her brother was studying. “I chose to come here, and I love it,” Mantero says of Penn State Altoona.
Early in her freshman year during the fall of 2011, Mantero contacted Penn State Altoona’s cross country coaches Matt and Heidi Manfred about running for the team. But Mantero’s class schedule clashed with the team’s practice times, and she was forced to wait until the following year.
Until then, she decided to train and prepare herself for the 2012 season. “I alternated between trips to the gym and running outside all over Altoona,” says Mantero.
Meanwhile, Mantero adjusted to her first extended time outside of Puerto Rico. She had traveled to different states before, but had never lived in any of them. She quickly adapted to her new environment, learning to cope with new things like much cooler temperatures.
“The temperature here is one of the biggest differences for me. The coldest it ever gets in Puerto Rico is about 72 degrees,” Mantero said. “Now when I go back home, I sweat from the heat.”
Mantero was not, however, hindered by language. In addition to speaking Spanish, she was raised learning English and also knows Italian. “It’s one thing to write and learn a language, but it’s another thing to have a conversation with a real person,” she explains. “But I usually don’t have any problems.”
With her fall 2012 class schedule settled, Mantero was able to finally join women’s cross country. In her first season, she posted the best time for her team in six of the Lady Lions’ seven races. Her best 5K time came on October 13 at Seneca Lake State Park in Geneva, New York, when she finished in 20:37.32. Her best 6K time came in the team’s most important race, the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference Championship, fourteen days later at the Ebensburg Country Club in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania. In that event, she placed eleventh out of ninety-seven runners with a time of 25:55.4.
Mantero’s finish at the AMCC Championship earned her a spot on the All-Conference Team for women’s cross country. She was also voted the AMCC’s Newcomer of the Year, an award reserved for the best first-year runner out of the conference’s ten teams, thanks to her stellar performance all season long. For Mantero, being recognized for her effort was special.
“I thank my teammates, who have been so good to me and supported me,” expresses Mantero. “I feel like getting All-Conference and Newcomer of the Year made it worthwhile waking up early every morning to run.”
Mantero has experienced a lot throughout her journey, but she still has a great deal she wants to accomplish. After she graduates with a degree in biology, she plans on going to graduate school to pursue a master’s degree related to research science. She intends to head to medical school after that. But no matter where she is or what she is doing, she hopes to find solace in running.
“I need to run every single day. I feel like something’s missing if I don’t,” Mantero explains. “For me, running is my relaxation time. There can be so much pressure and stress because of my studies. Running makes me not think about that. I feel free.”
As she looks back at the challenges she has faced thus far, Mantero is proud of her successes. She has adapted to life far from home while balancing school and athletics.
“Everything has definitely made me more of an independent, strong person,” she notes. “I feel like I’ve grown up so much. My experiences have shown me that life is not always perfect, and sometimes you struggle, but you keep on going and learn from your mistakes.”
It has been said that running is a metaphor for life. If that is so, then Mantero has found herself in the right sport.