She wasn’t the multi-sport standout jock or even the above-average athlete type with valedictorian grades. But she was an athlete with a superior will and inner drive to achieve her goals. That has shown through in the six years since Palacio walked down the graduation aisle at Lawlor Events Center.
Now, Palacio is gearing up for her senior year at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. She runs on the cross country and track teams for the Midshipmen. She’s taken a unique and circuitous route to the Academy.
“I enlisted in the Marine Corp. and left for boot camp in November 2005. I did that for two years,” Palacio said. “I got accepted into the Naval Academy prep school, went there for a year and got into the Naval Academy.”
Three years later, the hard work is mostly done and Palacio is set for her senior year at Navy. She’s excited about that, adding that the first three years at the Academy are the toughest. She noted seniors can drive their car on campus and get more privileges, like being able to dress out of uniform more often.
So how did her life take the path on its on?
“After being in the Marine Corp., I wanted to do something a little more,” Palacio said. “I wanted to be able to make decisions and help others. The Marine Corps. and prep school helped me. That opened my eyes to what military life was like. Prep school helped me academically. I’d been out of school a few years and didn’t have the academic background to get into the Naval Academy.”
While at prep school, she earned high academic praise and got a letter from the Secretary of the Navy, recommending her for the Academy. It paid off. Now is she not only nearing graduating from the prestigious Academy, she’s also excelling against some of the top college athletes in the country.
Palacio holds four Navy track & field records and has won nine Patriot League championships in her three years competing. She’s done all that while being the Academy’s first female track athlete who had been enlisted before her Navy tenure. Additionally, Palacio has been named the Patriot League track athlete of the meet at the last three league championships.
Not only is she excelling in competitions, but she’s got the respect of her peers too. They chose her as the captain of the cross country team for this coming fall season.
“It wasn’t out of the blue. I had an idea it could happen,” Palacio said of the captainship. “I didn’t know for sure, but it was appreciated for sure.”
The fleet-footed northern Nevada native knows when she started running and why she likes it.
“When I was five, my mom made me run on the beach and I’ve been at it since,” Palacio said. “Running just became a stress relief for me. I like the mental challenge as well.”
Palacio was in town this week visiting friends when she got a chance to get in a run with Spanish Springs High athletes and coach Ron Cross, who was her Cougars coach as well.
“It’s great to see any kid do what she’s done and then to see kids like her, who come from an underprivileged background, it’s especially awesome,” Cross said. “She’s had obstacles in her life. Some kids are intrinsically motivated to overcome that. It’s a rare quality to have and she’s got it. She saw the military as a way out of her situation, a fresh start.”
Palacio, who will have a five-year military commitment after graduation, will help run a cross country camp for youths Aug. 12-17. She then reports back to the Naval academy for the start of the new school year the following week. She’ll compete and complete her senior year and then go to Basic School where she’ll get career training and put in her preferences for her further military commitment.
She said she plans to go back to the Marine Corps. for the remainder of her commitment and will be looking for an assignment possibly in logistics, public affairs or military police.
Palacio did not want to get into specifics but admitted life was tough for her as a teen. With some of those struggles behind her, she’s focused on the future.
“There were outside struggles, but I’m just very excited now. Instead of looking at things day to day, I can look at the big picture. Now I can look ahead,” she said.
For more information on Palacio, you can check out her bio on the Navy sports Web site: www.navysports.com/sports/w-xc/mtt/palacio_jess00.html.