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The Statesman

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The Statesman

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Carlos Santos Jr. putting himself and Stony Brook on the global map

Carlos Santos Jr. (foreground) runs in the 2023 Central American and Caribbean Games. Santos Jr. earned a bronze medal in the competition. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE EL SALVADORAN NATIONAL OLYMPIC TEAM

From becoming a hometown hero to carrying the weight of a nation on his shoulders, Long Island native Carlos Santos Jr. has already been on the winner’s podium and is living his childhood dream.

After winning the 2023 Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) Track and Field Indoor Championship in the Men’s 5,000-meter race, Santos was determined to prove himself on the international stage. Over the summer, Santos represented El Salvador in the 2023 Central American and Caribbean Games in San Salvador, El Salvador.

In front of the home crowd, Santos became a bronze medalist and is now training to participate in the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.

Before attending Stony Brook, Santos was already a highly decorated runner, winning county championships, a state title and earning a High School All-American selection. As he goes through the rigors of training to represent El Salvador in the Olympics, the road to wearing the nation’s uniform has not been easy.

Feeling the pressure from representing an entire nation, Santos started to question if he could even wear the El Salvadoran uniform on the big stage.

“I am going to be honest, I struggled a lot,” Santos said in an interview with The Statesman. “I felt like I wasn’t ready and that the name and the uniform was probably too heavy for me. Maybe it was better if I wore a United States [uniform].”

Born in America to El Salvadoran parents, Santos chose to represent their home country because of the sacrifices they made for his family.

“They’ve worked so hard to give me and my siblings everything for us to have a better life compared to what they had down in El Salvador,” Santos said. “So it was only fair if I did the same in return for them to be proud of me, to represent the blue and white of El Salvador.”

In 2021, Santos represented El Salvador on the senior level for the first time. During his first three competitions, he failed to win a medal. Santos decided to take a year-long break from the national team to mature and develop as a runner.

In 2023, Santos was called up by El Salvador to compete on the national team again in the Central American and Caribbean Games. He was open to the prospect of representing his nation in the event, which is the second-oldest regional competition in the world behind the Olympics.

Before arriving at the games, Santos already had doubters.

“There were people down in El Salvador who were already down-talking me: a lot of reporters, a lot of media, were already doubting me before I had even stepped on the track,” Santos said. “There were people saying ‘If he doesn’t achieve a medal in these games at home, he has to retire from the national team. El Salvador is too big for him.’”

After spending a year away from international competitions, Santos had developed a debilitating fear of failure.

“I didn’t want to fail at home in front of millions of people,” Santos said. “It was a great debt that I owed to the country. Fearing failure is what brought me my happiest moments.”

With Santos needing reassurance, his Stony Brook coaching staff pumped him with confidence that he had previously lacked. He credited head coach Andy Ronan and assistant coach Jason Headman for making him feel like his moment of glory in San Salvador was upon him.

“Once I was down there … I knew I was ready; I’m not going to fail,” Santos said. “I knew I had two great coaches who had done everything they possibly can to make me the best runner I can be.”

On July 7, Santos stepped onto the track at the Jorge “Mágico” González Stadium in San Salvador packed with 35,000 people with only one thing on his mind: getting on the winner’s podium.

Energized by the national crowd, Santos’ elite bursts of speed carried him to a bronze medal. He ran an 8:51.92 in the Men’s 3,000-meter Steeplechase and became the first male athlete to win a medal in the event for El Salvador.

After struggling to deliver a medal for his nation during his first three competitions, Santos felt relief for proving his doubters wrong.

“Seeing the people, the joy, and how much love and support they gave you, that’s what made me fall in love with representing El Salvador,” Santos said. “I did it for the country. Once I won my medal, it was like a curse being lifted.”

Santos was one of 29 medalists for El Salvador, as the nation finished with the ninth-most medals.

Santos is also a local hero on Long Island, as he grew in Patchogue, N.Y. and attended Patchogue-Medford (Pat-Med) High School. His father was a semi-professional soccer player in El Salvador and influenced Santos to first play soccer at six years old.

By the time he reached middle school, he was zooming past his teammates on the pitch, leading to suggestions from coaches to give track a shot. Reluctantly, Santos joined his middle school boy’s track team. Santos’ fleet feet raced him to stardom with Pat-Med’s track and field program and ultimately put him on several Division I coaches’ radars.

Santos received scholarship offers from schools such as Cincinnati, Texas A&M and Texas Tech. However, Headman’s recruiting pitch motivated him to choose Stony Brook.

“[Headman] stuck his neck out for me and got me into Stony Brook,” Santos said. “He genuinely cared about me as a person compared to other schools who only saw me for my running ability.”

Throughout his tenure with the Seawolves, Santos has recorded plenty of impressive running times and accolades. One of his most recent accomplishments was winning the CAA Men’s 5,000-meter race in February 2023. During the fall of 2022, he also helped the Stony Brook men’s cross country team win the institution’s first-ever CAA championship.

Santos also holds the fastest 3,000-meter Steeplechase time in Stony Brook history, recording a time of 8:48.87 at the Larry Ellis Invite in 2022.

Beyond his competitive athletic career, Santos aspires to be a Spanish teacher. In 2022, he earned his bachelor’s degree in Spanish Teacher Preparation. However, given his success as a runner, Santos said he expects to keep competing until his late 30s.

Even after he hangs up the running shoes, he will surround himself with competition forever.

“Sports is something that is going to be in my life forever,” Santos said. “Down the line, when I have my own kids, they’re all doing sports. Sports is definitely what relieves me from all the outside stress of life and school.”

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