Jul. 3—As COVID-19 cases continued to pick up steam throughout 2020 and into the early parts of this year, so too did the despair and depression for recent Stockdale graduate Luis-Ramon Torres Jr.
An extremely focused and talented track and field athlete, who also excelled in the classroom with a 3.7 GPA, Torres’ life came to a virtual standstill as he was forced to sit and watch as the pandemic wiped out nearly every activity he cared about.
Seasons were canceled. Facilities were closed, and school was shifted to virtual learning.
And now on the heels of losing a promising junior campaign on the track, there seemed little chance that his senior year would be any different.
“COVID was devastating for me,” Torres said. “I mean it cut my season off, and it was just terrible. Just the whole situation was terrible even outside of athletics. It really takes a toll on someone’s health and just general feeling about everything. So I was really down in the dumps during that time.”
The emotional toll began to manifest itself in other ways, and physically his body suffered the effects. He stopped eating for periods of time, and when he did have a meal, it often wasn’t healthy. He lost nearly 20 pounds during the shutdown, dropping from his 5-foot-8, 150-pound physique to around 130 pounds during that stretch.
“I wasn’t really keeping up my body, my shape,” Torres said. “I wasn’t working out too much to try to look forward, I was just … it was a bad time for me. After going through that for that year and then coming into this season, it was a lot of work to get myself back into shape and back into form. But I was doing pretty bad, even in my own personal life during that time. And I think a lot of people also were … it’s a lot for someone that’s obviously very young.”
With no solution in sight, things began to turn around for Torres when coronavirus numbers began to trend in a more positive direction, and the California Interscholastic Federation, which governs high school athletics, began to lift restrictions in February.
“When I heard from a friend that they might bring back sports, and when they announced that track was coming back on March 15, I did not expect that,” Torres said. “It was like a little ray of sunshine bursting through the clouds for me.”
Just a few short weeks later, Torres was back on the track competing for the Mustangs, working himself back into shape, as his times began to steadily improve.
In his opening meet on April 24, a triangular against Bakersfield and Centennial, he won the 110 hurdles and finished second in the 100 meters. He also helped Stockdale’s 4×100 relay team to a second-place finish.
He followed that up with victories in the 110 and 300 hurdles, and the 100 at the Southwest Yosemite League Championships at BHS in early June, and then winning both hurdle events at the South Area meet.
Torres capped his impressive, albeit abbreviated season, by capturing the Central Section championship in the 110 (15.13) and 300 hurdles (39.89), and placing 10th in the 100 (11.07) — all in personal-record times.
“It speaks to the character the man has,” said Stockdale coach Dave Lonsinger, who announced his retirement at the end of the season. “The support he has from his family, the other people on the team that contributed and just his drive to find some joy and some purpose in what he was doing throughout this whole season was just tremendous to watch.”
Understanding the difficulties that Torres overcame made the experience all the more special for Lonsinger.
“I’m a process guy so I try not to just let a result validate, vindicate or identify myself or others, that’s their identity,” said Lonsinger, who shared a moment with the runner following his victory in the 110 hurdles, extending his arms above his head with two thumbs up, as Torres smiled back. “But that being said, to see him finish like that as the end part of a process where he did all of the stuff that we’re talking about, I was thrilled for him.”
Stockdale coach Tyus Thompson was similarly impressed.
“He was amazing, both because of his success on the track, but also because of his attitude,” Thompson said. “I’ve talked a lot about how kids needed sports and needed stuff to come back, and he’s one of those kids that desperately needed it to come back. There were a few months before track was even confirmed, where he was super depressed, like a lot of kids because he lost his junior season and then now you’re unsure about your senior season.”
Born in Cabimas, Venezuela, a city on the shore of Maracaibo Lake in Zulia State in the northwestern part of the country, Torres moved to Bakersfield with his family when he was 2 along with father, Luis Ramon Torres Sr., his mother, Noreyda Torres, and his older brother, Luis Javier Torres, who was also a sprinter at Stockdale and holds the second fastest times in school history in the 100 (10.86) and 200 (22.07).
The brothers began competing in track and field when they were around 10 and 12 years old, respectively, pushing each other. That competition fueled Luis-Ramon’s desire that eventually led him to become a double section champion.
“There was definitely a learning curve,” Luis-Ramon said. “I mean I wasn’t terrible. I was doing pretty good, but as for really winning medals or being at the top? I was fighting to even get like a sixth place.”
The turning point was when he was in eighth grade, when, he says, he mastered a three-step interval between each hurdle in the 110.
“Most people get five steps in,” Torres said. “The less steps the better, the faster you’re going, so I finally got that down through my training. It was kind of like a rolling ball, I got that down and then I started doing good in this area and then everything else just kind of comes together after that.”
Torres won the junior high section meet, but continued to chase others to become the top hurdler in the area, something he believes helped push him to achieve his goals.
“It was definitely a continuous fight to really get that top spot,” Torres said. “I was almost always chasing someone, trying to get to the top spot. I’d say I’m a better chaser than I am running from people. So I think it’s been almost good for me to have someone better than me that I have to work harder to reach.”
Torres’ work ethic has never been in question from his coaching staff.
“He’s the type of kid that wants to learn how to do something and when he’s enjoying it, he’s going to try to learn it well,” Thompson said. “So that fire and that determination, I think he’s always had.”
“He’s come in from a track family, ready to hit the ground as a freshman, competed right away, worked super hard,” Lonsinger said. “To come out of COVID, where many people, including myself, didn’t think there was going to be a season, and to accomplish that? To keep even a glimmer of hope and then to be able to put into action with training sessions from wherever you were coming from because not everyone was training obviously, and the limitations were there because of the pandemic, of course … and to be able to that and put together a season at the level that he was able to do and be a double Valley champion, it’s phenomenal.”
With his impressive senior season behind him, Torres is now turning his focus toward his future goals. He plans to attend Cal Poly Pomona in the fall and hopes to someday be a chemical engineer. He also says he might talk to the track and field coach about running on their track and field team, but that hasn’t been decided.
And although Torres may have run his last race, he’s at peace with that.
“That was in the back of my head, but no matter what, I went out there and I wanted to enjoy it and to have it to be a good memory, regardless of the results,” said Torres of the section meet. “And, well, I got first place and that makes it a much better memory.
“Doing all this, coming almost off of nothing. Almost losing everything I had worked for. My shape, my form, all of that. And then coming in and having to start pretty much from scratch, and then working myself up to this point, that makes me even more proud of it. If this does end up being my last race, then I’m happy to say I finished with it.”