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Brandon Jauregui: Finding the fight

Saugus grad continues to train through cancer

Posted: July 15, 2013 10:39 p.m.
Updated: July 15, 2013 10:39 p.m.

Brandon Jauregui enjoyed an extremely successful career at Saugus High before he graduated in 2009. Since then, he's tried to get back to that level in college, but injuries and illness have slowed him. Photo by Jonathan Pobre.

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Week after week, month after month, Brandon Jauregui kept falling well short of his expectations.

The worst part was, he couldn’t figure out why.

Maybe he just lost it, he thought to himself. Whatever worked so well for him during his decorated high school career at Saugus wasn’t translating into collegiate success.

The frustration mounted to the point where he was ready to call it quits from competitive running for good.

And that’s when life turned everything on its head. On May 6, after what he thought was a fairly routine doctor’s visit for a swollen leg, 22-year-old Jauregui found out he had cancer.

“The first two hours (after finding out about cancer), the first thing I thought of was running,” Jauregui says. “Because I love running I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is career ending. This is cancer and it’s a big thing. And later I thought, ‘Well I can either let it kick my butt or I can get over it.’”

Jauregui was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, which affects the body’s white blood cells. It has a high survival rate given the latest, highly-effective drug treatments, according to the American Cancer Society.

Still, as Jauregui was headed into his final year of athletic eligibility at San Jose State, the prospect of dealing with cancer while staying in running shape seemed bleak.

“He’s always been very dedicated and ever since he was diagnosed with leukemia, he was down for a while there,” says Jauregui’s father, Joe. “I guess the whole family was. Something you’ve loved your whole life and you think it’s gone. I guess he was a little bit depressed.”

For about a month while he was receiving his initial treatments and tests, Brandon was unable to run because chemotherapy pills left him feeling nauseous or fatigued at times.

“When you can’t do what you love, you don’t know what to do with yourself and you just feel miserable,” says Annie Randall, fellow Saugus cross country product and longtime friend of Brandon’s.

Word got around the community about Brandon’s diagnosis, and soon the floodgates were open as support rushed in from all angles.

Through text messages, phone calls, cards and hospital visits from friends, it was clear how important he was to the tight-knit SCV running circle, particularly at Saugus.

Two years ago, Brandon started a blog, Brando’s Blog, which was originally a platform for him to share his thoughts and test out his writing skills since he’s working on a journalism degree.

Later, it developed into a hub for SCV cross country records and results and it’s become a staple for those who compete and follow the sport in this valley. He’s become the unofficial distance running historian of the area.

Part of the reason for the blog’s success was Brandon’s glowing reputation.

“I don’t think anyone has been as influential as Brandon,” says Randall, who still trains with Brandon and the rest of the current Saugus High cross country teams. “Just in the running community, everybody knows him and everybody loves him. ... He’s just so lovable. To me, he’s just kind and generous and he’s one of the most kind people I’ve ever met.”

And there’s another thing Brandon is known for — his fiery passion for the sport.

He was there when Saugus’ cross country programs were just beginning to rise to prominence. Brandon was one of the top runners for a Saugus boys team that won three straight Foothill League crowns from 2006-08 and a track and field title in 2009.

That culminated in his senior year in the fall of 2008, when he became the school’s first-ever male individual cross country champion.

Brandon then went on to earn All-CIF-Southern Section honors during track and field in the 3,200-meters in the spring of 2009.

“He had a lot of energy,” Joe says of Brandon in high school. “A lot of energy. So much where the best thing that he has is running because it slows him down a little bit. He’s just go, go, go, go, go.”

Soon, Brandon was off the college at San Francisco State, where he ran for the cross country and track and field teams for two seasons.

But his times weren’t improving by much and he was, for the first time in years, not one of the top runners on the team.

“College hasn’t exactly been how I imagined it to be,” Brandon says. “I remember in high school my first year, people were like, ‘Oh, this kid is going to be so good and he’s going to be so good in college.’ It hasn’t been like that at all. I think I’ve been injured more than I’ve actually run in college.”

In 2011, he quit the SF State team and took a year off competitive running before he came in contact with the coaching staff at San Jose State.

After the program offered him a scholarship, he decided to join his younger sister Jenay, who also runs at San Jose and graduated from Saugus in 2012.

Even at a new school though, Brandon’s struggles continued.

“I told him a couple times, ‘Maybe you just don’t have it anymore. Maybe you just get injured too easily and you’re burnt out,’” says Jenay, now a sophomore at San Jose. “He never wanted to believe it and I’m glad he never wanted to believe it.”

Though the news about his cancer was devastating at first, it also provided an explanation for the injuries and tribulations all these years in college.

Now, Brandon knew what was wrong with him. And now, he knew how to beat it.

Those who are training with him daily, like Jenay and Randall, say he’s running longer and faster than he has in a long time.

Brandon says he’s continually lifted by his fellow Saugus alumni, his family and his friends.

“I see life way differently now,” Brandon says. “Before, kids do stupid things. They go out, they stay out all night at these parties. Now, I look at life and it’s just crazy. I don’t want to waste days. I don’t want to waste life I guess. There are still things I want to do outside of running that I didn’t want to do before.”

Due to his ongoing treatment, Brandon will sit out this season at San Jose State and will continue to train locally.

He plans to finish out his college career, presumably cancer-free, in 2014-15.

Maybe he’s still got it after all.

“I still think I can be one of the best runners Santa Clarita has ever seen,” Jauregui says. “When I’m old, I’m going to look back, and the moment I’m going to look back at is this moment when I trained through cancer and hopefully successfully.”

For more about Brandon Jauregui and all things relating to distance running in the Santa Clarita Valley, visit his blog at brandosblog.weebly.com.

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