Joaquim Cruz - the most famous guide runner of all time?

By Annemarie Blanco | Aug. 07, 2015, 8:36 p.m. (ET)

Joaquim Cruz and Ivonne Mosquera-Schmidt, pictured above, speak to reporters during a press conference during the 2015 Parapan American Games.

Days before her chance at the 2013 IPC World Track and Field Championships in Lyon, Ivonne Mosquera-Schmidt was faced with a heartbreaking challenge. She was without a guide which she would leave her unable to compete. As she racked her brain for a solution, she stumbled upon star athlete Joaquim Cruz. While the pair hardly knew each other, he was quick to offer his assistance. But, this was not their first encounter and Mosquera-Schmidt soon remembered him from months prior.

 “I ran at an IPC event in Arizona,” Mosquera-Schmidt said. “I didn’t know what I was doing so I ran the 800-meter, 1500 and 5000 all in the same day. Afterwards, coach Joaquim Cruz came up to me and said ‘Go back to the hotel and take a hot bath because this is a hard track.’ I was wondering who this man was that told me to go take a hot bath.”

After the competition, Mosquera-Schmidt did a bit of research where she discovered her helpful hint came from a veteran of the track, both as an Olympic medalist and coach. A few months later, she was face to face with Cruz once again.

“Ivonne’s guide had not arrived yet and she needed someone to run with her,” said the U.S. National Team Track and Field coach.  “I remember thinking about how the guide sprinters would not do it, so it looks like I am the man.”

Unknowingly to the fresh-faced track runner, Cruz was plotting to coach her since their first encounter. After numerous meetings and his help at the world championships, Mosquera-Schmidt decided to pack her bags, move to Chula Vista and work full-time with the man who helped her without pause.

Now, two years after their first encounter as runner and guide, the pair will rejoin on the track once again to take on the 2015 Parapan American Games.

For blind athletes, the bond between a runner and their guide is stronger than most. They must take time to accustom themselves to their partner’s every movement.

“There’s a lot of trust you put in the guide because the guide is giving you verbal cues and guiding you around other runners,” Mosquera-Schmidt explained.  “It’s not easy to find guide runners who are fast, and we need them to be faster than us so they’re not working as hard while they’re trying to guide. It takes a lot for somebody to give up their time, their energy and the rest of their lives to help us achieve our goals.”

“I think all of this comes together nicely with coach Cruz because one of the first things he ever told me when we sat down and seriously started thinking about me being coached by him was  ‘Your dreams become my dreams’ and that’s essentially what we want not only in a coach but also a guide.”

Cruz, a 1984 Olympic gold and 1986 silver medalist for Brazil, is no stranger to competing and coaching.  After winning numerous medals, NCAA titles and Pan American records, he’s focused his efforts on guiding Paralympic athletes onto the podium.

Ten years into coaching, Cruz believes in doing anything he can to make sure his athletes succeed including getting onto the track himself.  And, even though he’s long left the competitive world of track, Cruz refuses to let go of his own personal athletic routine behind for the sake of training.

“I stopped competing but I did not stop running,” Cruz explained. “Running is part of my daily life. I’m the type of coach that I don’t send my athletes home if they have problem with guides. If they are at my pace, I just throw my stop watch to the side and I do the job that needs to be done.”

A Brazilian native and the first Brazilian to win an Olympic track gold, Cruz moved to the U.S. as a bright-eyed eighteen year old with a college scholarship to the University of Oregon. After the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games, he decided to stay for the long haul. Now thirty-three years later, he’s not worried about letting his hometown of Rio affect his athletes at either the Parapan or upcoming Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, including Team USA’s top T11 sprinter David Brown.

“He’s my kid,” Cruz explained. “The only difference is that he is from the United States. I tell my athletes the first day we meet that their goals are my goals and that I’m very competitive. The only difference now is that I cannot get the job done on the track so I will make sure that they get the job done for me every day during practice. I’ll be realizing a dream when my athletes from the U.S. cross the finish line at first, second or third.”

Mosquera-Schmidt and Cruz will take to the track in the women’s 1500m T11 race on Thursday at the CIBC Parapan Am Athletics Stadium. For more information on Team USA at the Toronto 2015 Parapan Am Games, visit TeamUSA.org/ParapanAm