Photos by Rome City Schools

Imagine, just for a moment, that a child is asked to pick up the life they know to be real and start all over again in a world where they have no connection to the place they will one day call home.

Not only will they have to make new friends, but they do not speak the language. Communication is a challenge. The road ahead of them is full of obstacles they must overcome; they put one foot in front of the other. Their walk becomes a run. They run faster and faster. Soon, they are leading the pack and speaking a language that is universal; they have always spoke a language that everyone can understand. That language is hard work, and Esdras Real is fluent in not letting anything take him off the path to success.

“I learned of Esdras at a cross country race called the Wingfoot Classic. It is an enormous race that is held just outside of Cartersville. My daughter runs cross country for Rome High School and my son graduated from Rome High school as the captain of the team, so I have an interest in Rome’s program. Esdras won the race and there were hundreds of runners participating. I was in shock that one of our Rome runners won and I wanted to know more about him,” said Krista Pierce who is a physical education teacher and coach at Berry Elementary and Middles School.

Pierce is former collegiate athlete and she recognized the value of scholarships awarded to students who excel athletically. “I asked around about this guy. I wanted to know who he was and where he came from,” she chuckled when recalling how much she was impressed with Real’s showing at the Wingfoot Classic.

"The way I see it, this also opens doors and starts the conversation for many other students like him. I have been teaching for six years now and around 33 percent of our school is Hispanic. Some of them think that there is no point in going to school other than to get a drivers license or because their mother makes them come every day. I think Esdras and his story will open the eyes of his fellow classmates and the ones who will come after him. He has the character and the work ethic to be successful, no matter where he is in this world, and I want other students to know that there is hope for them, too. It all starts with education."

After some digging, she found out that Real was a senior and he was a member of the soccer team during his early years at Rome. After she spoke to LeAnn Goya, who is a RCS educator and the wife of Rome’s cross country coach Luis Goya, Pierce was able to uncover a bit more about Real and his story. Her end goal was to help him to build on what he had obviously started as a Wolf.

“Eventually I was able to talk with Coach Goya and he said it would be okay for me to speak with Esdras about his plans for the future. One of the things I learned that really impressed me about him is that he arrived in Georgia and at Rome High as a freshman. When he arrived, he could not speak any English. I could not imagine
what that was like for him. Whenever I meet someone who is able to learn a second language quickly, I am really blown away by their intelligence. It must have been extremely hard for him to not only build relationships, but to study in a language that is foreign to him. What I also learned from my conversations with him is that he is an incredibly hard worker and he has made some great choices,” Pierce said.

The conversation about college eventually became what Real, Pierce and Goya spoke about on a regular basis. What looked like a long shot was good enough for Pierce to start the process of applying to Berry College. The good news was, Real had already seen the campus, met some of the cross country runners there and he was excited about the possibility of becoming a Viking after graduation.

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“I knew that Esdras had run with the Berry cross country team during workouts and that he had met Paul Deaton, who is the coach,” Pierce said. “I knew Coach Deaton would love to have Esdras on the team, but we still had a challenge ahead. Berry College does not award athletic scholarships. However, being a standout athlete can still make the way easier for students like Esdras to attend Berry.”

So after hitting walls that seemed impassable, Pierce and Goya were able to keep Real encouraged long enough for Berry to award him the aid needed for him to attend in the fall. Having the help of people who believed in him, and through the generosity of Berry College, he will be a Viking starting the fall of 2019.

“I am very excited for Esdras,” said Luis Goya who has watched the growth of this young runner since he joined the cross country team in 2017. “The way I see it, this also opens doors and starts the conversation for many other students like him. I have been teaching for six years now and around 33 percent of our school is Hispanic. Some of them think that there is no point in going to school other than to get a drivers license or because their mother makes them come every day. I think Esdras and his story will open the eyes of his fellow classmates and the ones who will come after him. He has the character and the work ethic to be successful, no matter where he is in this world, and I want other students to know that there is hope for them, too. It all starts with education.”

Goya then told the story of how Real ran a 15-mile workout with the athletes at Berry College. Not only did he keep pace, he pushed the pace for the group. “I have so many stories about this guy and how he pushes himself to be great. He wants to chase his destiny,” Goya said. “The first time I took him to Berry College for a run he told me, ‘I want to come over here, Coach Goya!’ I told him okay, we will work on reaching that goal.”

“My parents came here looking for a good life for me and my family,” Real recalled. “I really did not want to come here, but when I did in December of 2015 I decided to make the most of it. I wanted to learn the language. I also made a lot of friends. One day, my friends told me that the language was hard for them and they dropped out. I told them that they needed the language to survive, so what was the point in leaving the place where people were there to help and teach them. They would ask me if I wanted to drop out with them and I told them no. I told them that I was going to keep working hard. It wasn’t easy for me, because when you try to do something that is worth it, they tell you it can’t be done. If you stop and don’t keep trying, then you will never know if you could have made it work.”

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Real credits his parents, Juan Quixan and Elvira Real, with instilling in him the spirit to persevere when things look dim. He also says that Ms. Martina Couey and Ms. Dulce Morales, both ESOL educators at Rome High School, helped him to learn English and to make good grades. And lastly, he says that the guidance from Coach Goya and Ms. Pierce believing in him is validation that all of his work was not in vain.

“The first time I went to Berry College with Coach Goya I was amazed because it is huge!” said Real with a smile so wide, it could reach across the banks of the mighty Coosa River. “I told him that one day I will be a student here. I just kept running, every single day. My friends said that I was crazy for running and putting so much effort into something that I will never be good at. They told me that most of the people who run are not Hispanic. They are not there. Our thing is soccer. Running is not our thing. I told them that if you are going to limit yourself by following a group, then you will never know what you can do with hard work. I run my own path and I will just see how it goes.”

Keep running, Esdras. You inspire us all and hopefully we can keep up.

Go Wolves.