Last year, while eating at the counter at Mozza2Go, I struck up a conversation with a new employee named Daniel Zaragoza. He told me a little about himself and, when I asked more, he said he was a Dreamer, having come to California from Mexico at age two or three and then, almost casually, like it was no big deal, added he had recently run his first marathon, the L.A. one, finishing as the 20th fastest racer in the event and fifth fastest American.
I nodded and said said something like "Good for you", all the while thinking to myself, "Yeah, sure you're right. And I play centerfield for the New York Yankees."
Later that night, at home, I, for the hell of it, looked up the results of the 2017 Los Angeles Marathon. Damn, that dreamer wasn't just dreaming. Listed at 20th overall and the fifth American. with a time of 2:35.24. was Daniel Zaragoza, aka Mozza2Go Go Go's Marathon Man. The Fastest Dreamer.
For the stat folks out there, Daniel was only 52 seconds off the time of the woman's professional champion, Hellen Jerkurgat of, big surprise, Kenya and less than. 12 minutes off the fastest American professional marathoner, John Pickhaver.
Daniel Zaragoza, 24, was born in Veracruz, Mexico on October 4, 1993, but he has no memory of there.
"My earliest memories are of Lincoln Heights, Los Angeles," he said, adding he attended Griffin Avenue Elementary, Florence Nightingale Middle and Abraham Lincoln High School. At Lincoln High, he ran cross country and track & field in his junior and senior years. Daniel won his league's champion for cross country and made it to the finals for the citywide event. "As a kid, I didn't understand what it was to be undocumented," he said.
It wasn't until he was a senior ii high school that he fully understood the ramifications.
"Everyone was talking about universities, but i didn't really have a option," Daniel said. That troubled him. "I am the only dreamer in my family. All of my cousins and siblings are citizens and so are most of my friends. It's hard sometimes not to be able to talk to someone about it.".
So he escaped. With a pair of worn out running shoes..
"When I ran, i felt equal. It didn't matter where you came from, how much money you have. It was about who wanted it the most and who would train the hardest."
After high school, Daniel went to East LA College. He received a $500 scholarship which covered his first semester. He couldn't work because he didn't have a social security card, but his parents saved up and paid for the another semester.
Daniel credits the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, (DACA) for allowing him to continue his education.
"Thanks to the Dream act, i was able to transfer to Cal State LA. where I ran for the team there with a partial athletic scholarship," said Daniel, who graduated in May, 2017.
Daniel runs and trains with BlacklistLA, the "Run Organization" founded in 2013 that you may have seen at a late night red light near you. You know, those 200 or 300 crazy folks running through the streets at midnight? All them seemingly smiling and loving this city. They make you want to park your car and join them, even if your not in running shape.
"BlacklistLA has been an terrifically positive influence for my running," Daniel said as he prepared to leave Mozza2Go and get on a plane Thursday night bound for Boston. "They have supported me and without them I wouldn't be going to Boston"
Daniel credits BlacklistLA founder Erik Valiente for being a mentor to him.
"Erik is someone I talk to about my goals and he does his best to guide me."
Now, the soft spoken dreamer - who I didn't believe at first - is all about motivating others.
"My goal is to make my own company.that inspires others to become whoever they want to be. I want to be able to go around the nation and talk to people and give them motivation, specially dreamers. Being a dreamer is very difficult. I used to hide away from it all the while others where out there fighting for my rights. Now that I'm older, i feel more secure about who I am and not afraid to stand up for dreamers, but in my own way."
And those worn out shoes? They been replaced by some $300 Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4%ers.
It's supposed to rain Monday on the Marathon in Boston, but that won't slow this dreamer down.