Salazar will make tracks to West Point

JOYCE F. NOWELL, Echo Pilot
Daniel Salazar, a member of the G-AHS Class of 2016, is headed to the U.S. Military Academy later this month, adding his name to the short list of local grads to attend West Point.

Daniel Salazar has run the good race for Greencastle-Antrim. Now the Class of 2016 graduate will be doing the same for his country.

Salazar, who collected division championships in cross country and track during his senior season as a Blue Devil distance runner, will leave for the United States Military Academy in a few weeks. He joins just a handful of G-AHS graduates who have received a nomination to West Point.

Making the decision

Just like running, the idea of military service did not come easily for Salazar.

Despite appearing to be a natural distance runner and having a full family military background, it took some time for the young man to dedicate himself to both. Once he did, the results were decisive.

“I started with track and field in seventh-grade and I was terrible at running,” said Salazar, who was born in Gaithersburg and moved to Greencastle in 2009. “I quit and didn’t do it in eighth-grade.

“I started again in ninth-grade and stuck with it. I did cross country in 10th-grade and just kept doing both of those sports each year. I improved and excelled a lot.”

At about the same time Salazar started to take to running, the youngest son of Wilber and Elena Salazar was seeing the fruits of a military education when his brother graduated from West Point.

“My father was always talking to me about going to a military school or a military academy. At first I was somewhat rebellious. I wanted to get into something different than all my other brothers, but toward the end of eighth-grade I just really got the mindset that I do want to go to West Point.

“I saw how West Point really shaped my brother’s life in a positive way. I told my Dad and he told me all the things I needed to do and accomplish in high school; maintain excellent grades because they won’t accept anything less; start getting involved in a lot of extra curricular activities and work to the best of my ability to excel in them.”

Making tracks

Once Salazar had his mind set on his goal, he was ready to do what he needed to in order to succeed.

“I lost plenty of times in the beginning,” he related. “I got last place a lot. It was frustrating at first, but then I started running over the summer and the winter, just trying to improve.

“I remember playing soccer and I wasn’t really good at it or any other sport. I just thought running would get me in shape for the military. I ended up becoming somewhat decent in running. It all worked out.”

In spite of distance running seeming like a loner type of activity, no so for Salazar as the  camaraderie developed was key to team championships in both sports. The cross country and track teams were both undefeated enroute to the titles.

“It would be a lot harder without your teammates,” Salazar stated. “I wouldn’t have as much motivation. It’s boring to run on your own. When you run with friends you can talk and we push each other to keep going.

“It makes it a lot easier when I have friends to do it with. We meet up and run together. I think that’s a cool aspect. I just love how we’re all very close. We are the distance team for track and we are cross country. We’re like a family. We’re close.”

Still Salazar’s individual fortitude was evident as he could often be seen around Greencastle in the worst weather running on his own.

“Coach (Rich) Secrest (cross country and track distance coach) told me you can’t just take four months off from running because it would be just like you’re starting over again. You want to be prepared when the season starts,” recalled Salazar.

West Point bound

And Salazar is likely well prepared for West Point as well.

“I saw that all of my brothers were in the military and I felt like I should be in the military,” said Salazar, who has a brother who is a linguist in the Air Force, two brothers in the National Guard and the West Point grad who just returned from deployment. He also has a sister enrolled in law school and another is a Greencastle-Antrim Middle School student.

“And I thought the best way to go would be a service academy. The ability to serve your country and receiving one of the best educations in the United States would be the best way to go.”

Salazar received his West Point appointment from Congressman Bill Shuster after beginning the process of applying in January of his junior year and a number of interviews.

He liked the “beautiful campus” and the challenge of West Point.

“I think I can survive basic training because I feel like I have too much pride to quit,” he stated. “I just know that I worked so hard to get in here, why would I be one of those people who get weeded out? I like the physical aspect of it and being physically fit. After basic training is done you focus on your studies and it turns into a regular college atmosphere.

“The academic part is very important. It’s probably at the top; receiving the education and going into a career that will benefit me for my entire life.”

Salazar is undecided on a major, but is leaning toward mechanical engineering or language.

“I’m excited and nervous all at the same time. I’m more excited than nervous,” he said.

Cadets are required to participate in a sport at West Point. No surprise here. Salazar will be running.