It’s a typical sunny Flagstaff day, and Diego Estrada takes a break from training to visit a favorite taqueria.
While many Olympians spend their days focusing every second on their sport, Estrada takes a slightly different approach.
“I’ve done my best to avoid it," he said. "I actually started working on my room, I painted it, I built a bed from scratch. I’ve been trying to stay distracted because I know if I focus too much I’m going to burn out or lose interest. Our goal has been to stay away from it and treat it like any other race."
When Estrada says “our” he means himself and the man sitting next to him, NAU Track and Field Director Eric Heins.
Heins is coaching Estrada for the Olympics, just as he does during the track season.
He compares coaching elite athletes like Estrada to driving a racecar.
"I’m there to steer," he said. "Diego knows what things work for him. He knows what training benefits him.”
Try as he may to distract himself from the Olympics, Estrada has faced some very hard workouts.
“It’s a little bit draining, but now as it gets closer to leaving for Europe it’s getting more exciting and I’m beginning to feel more alive again," he said. "I did get to a point where I was just frustrated of being in Flagstaff and running so much mileage, but of course I have coach Heins here giving me advice and keeping me grounded and believing that it will all pay off in the end.”
Estrada’s training is not the only unique thing about his Olympic appearance.
He won’t be running for the US. He’s running for his parents’ native country, Mexico.
Olympic athletes can hold dual citizenship and participate for either country.
The rules require only that an athlete be a citizen of the country he or she competes for.
Coach Heins has no qualms about cheering for athletes from other countries.
In fact, Estrada is one of three athletes Heins has coached who will all be representing different countries.
NAU alumni and former national champions Lopez Lomong and David McNeill will also be at the Olympics.
While Lomong will represent his adopted home of America, McNeill will be racing for his home country, Australia.
“Going over there and knowing that Diego is racing and Lopez and David McNeill will be racing, that’s going to be special enough for me," Heins said.
Another aspect of Estrada’s unusual training is his competition schedule leading up to the Olympics.
He competed in a 1,500-meter Olympic warm-up race in Gent, Belgium on July 18th, finishing ninth with a time of 3:46.29.
Estrada sees it as nothing more than preparation for the Olympic 10,000-meter race on August 4th.
“Everything has just been perfectly organized for August 4th. Whatever we can do around that is going to work," he said. "If this race coming up changes, we’re not going to change our philosophy. It’s a rust-buster.”
A busy schedule leading up to the Olympics seems to be working for Diego Estrada.
Coach Heins thinks that keeping Estrada’s life as regular as possible will help.
“We’re not looking at it like it’s anything different," he said. "Yes it’s special because it’s the Olympic Games, but we’re not going to change things just because it is the Olympic Games.”
And thanks to his preparation and his coach, Estrada thinks he is ready to represent Mexico as best as he can.
“I want to show up to the Olympics with open expectations, no limits, knowing that I’ve been training in one of the best places in the world, and I’ve had great coaching,” he said.
Diego Estrada is scheduled to run the 10,000 meter final on August 4th.