TIME FOR A CHAMPION
A homeless teenage girl from Mexico is adopted by an American family and enrolled in a high school in Texas where she overcomes her own personal demons and the bullying of her classmates to become a track star. Elena, 16 years old, has always been on the run eeking out a meager existence in abandoned tenement hotels and shelters. A reporter, Brian Velasquez, a Mexican-born American in his mid-30s, is moved by the plight of this young girl, and applies to adopt her.
Elena, an introverted, fiercely independent girl, has no idea why Brian would want anything to do with her. Once the paperwork is completed, Brian takes Elena to his home in Pharr, Texas where she meets Brian’s wife Valerie, who runs her own catering business. Elena is enrolled at the sprawling, modern high school where her parents went to school, where she is bullied for being somber and different. Elena is uncomfortable around all these students with their close friendships and laughter that she feels foreign, excluded, and when she does speak, she cannot conceal her hostility, rejecting any overture of friendship that comes her way.
When a bullying incident in the locker room humiliates her, she runs out of the school and onto the high school’s track. Running quickly becomes her only solace. Before she knows it she is speeding onto the school’s athletic track then across the field and, in her mind, through the stars and from planet to planet before she is caught. Ms. Ramos, her gym teacher, suggests to the school’s track coach, Mr. Hartley, that he consider Elena for the track team. He refuses; he sees her as a discipline problem and he has no time or patience for someone who will not be a team player. Ms. Ramos urges Mr. Hartley to reconsider his attitude about Elena. He reluctantly agrees to give Elena a chance to prove herself.
Now all that has to happen is for Elena herself to agree – not a sure thing by any means. Ms. Ramos meets with Elena and urges her to join the team. Predictably, she says no. Ms. Ramos asks Elena to jog with her that afternoon after school. She tells Elena they are going to be joined by a famous athlete who is insisting on meeting her. She shows Elena the trophies in the lobby that the school won in track and field, including a towering gold cup dating back more than 15 years, first place in the national championships. The former student who won that trophy wants to meet her. Elena is shocked when the person who joins them on the school’s athletic field is Brian. Elena learns that Brian was a track star – that those are his trophies in the school’s lobby – and she can now see for herself what a former champion can still do, almost 20 years later, as Brian breaks into a sprint and forges ahead of Elena on the school’s track.
Brian makes Elena understand that running does not have to mean running away from something, but can mean running toward something: to a championship. And she learns that Brian has a background close to her own – he was also adopted as a child.
Elena decides to joins the team, but three of the girls – Julia, who had been the star athlete, and her friends Amy and Melanie – are resentful of this intruder who begins to outshine them. But on the eve of a crucial trial heat, Elena’s world comes crashing down. Ms. Ramos’s purse is stolen and found in Elena’s locker. Ms. Ramos asks everyone who took the purse, but then reveals that the thief can clearly be seen on a closed circuit video. Amy steps forward. She stole the purse and implicated Elena so her friend Julia would be sure to win the competition. Julia is shocked. Amy is suspended, and Julia feels so responsible for the atmosphere of hatred and bullying that she resigns from the team and transfers to another school.
Training begins for the statewide competitions and Elena excels. As they prepare for the finals, Elena gives up her place on the relay and asks that Amy be her replacement. Amy is stunned – and we can see that she and all her teammates are deeply moved by Elena’s gesture of reconciliation. On that day, Amy and Elena become lifelong best friends and a spirit of harmony transforms the school. Finally, at the state competition, cheered by her classmates, Elena becomes the new champion.