Olympic dreams have been put on hold for Buchanan High School graduate Fernando Cabada.
The professional runner came in 55th place in the U.S. Olympic Trials marathon held in Los Angeles on Feb. 13, with a time of 2:27:53. It was nowhere near his personal record of 2:11:10 at the 26.2 mile distance.
The U.S. Olympic team — Galen Rupp (2:11:13), Meb Kefeizighi (2:12:20) and Jared Ward (2:13:00) — is headed to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in August.
Cabada has a different destination in mind: Kenya.
He flies out of the Valley on Feb. 24, actually, with a one-way ticket to the East African country famous for producing the world’s top distance runners.
“I don’t know when I’m going to come back,” Cabada said. “I’m 34 years old. I still have another shot. I’m going to dedicate my prime years of running to running. I have nothing to lose, so it’s a pretty good position to be in.”
Cabada planned his trip to Kenya whether he made for the U.S. Olympic team or not.
“I figured, if I made the (Olympic) team, I had a reason to go (to Kenya), and if I didn’t make the team, I still had a reason to go,” he said. “I haven’t given up and I’m really determined to redeem myself.”
Cabada led the race coming into the first water station near Mile 4.
“I wanted to be able to get my bottle, because they’re lined up single-file and there’s so many runners bunched up,” he said. “I got my bottle, everything went smooth and I ran behind everybody (in the lead pack) for the next five miles.”
By Mile 15, Cabada said he could no longer stay with the leaders.
“I just really blew up. At 15 miles I was adamant that I was going to drop out,” he said.
But he couldn’t find a place to do so.
“I was trying to figure out how to drop out without many people seeing me,” he said. “But I kept hearing my name. I was wishing that everyone would quit cheering for me because I was doing so horribly, but at every turn there was someone yelling my name.”
He continued running, feeling ashamed, he said.
“It felt like I was out there just walking naked in front of everybody,” he said. “I was so defeated and so embarrased. But then I got to Mile 20 and said ‘why don’t I just finish the race?’”
Once he crossed the line, Cabada said, he didn’t feel that embarrassed.
“I accomplished something. Something like 25 percent of the people dropped out, a lot of people did bad; I finished,” he said.
Out of 164 men who started the race, only 108 crossed the finish line. Temperatures got up to 73 degrees on a looped course that lacked shade.
Cabada said he still wants to break 2 hours and 11 minutes in the marathon, but for now he’s going to get stronger in Kenya and return to the U.S. for the USA Half Marathon Championships in April and possibly the USA 25K Championships.
“I didn’t win the battle, but I can still win the war,” he said. “If anyone can take a hit, it’s me. I respect what went down and I’m just going to lay low and be back racing in a couple of months.”