Legendary McFarland runner Thomas Valles heading to NYC Marathon

November 15, 2021 /

Thomas Valles is a McFarland legend who was at the forefront of the 1987 championship team and now coaches the girls cross country team at McFarland high school and will be participating in the 50th annual New York City Marathon.

Valles’ story was featured in the Disney movie “McFarland USA.” Valles and his teammates were the CIF California State Cross Country Champions in 1987.

Valles’ story is a special one because he grew up working in the fields with his family, so opportunities like these were very rare.

“Growing up, we had to work to keep a roof over our heads,” said Valles. “My parents always encouraged us to work hard.”

Valles said his coach, Jim White, recruited him and his classmates in middle school to start running and they received a lot of support from the community.

“I had positive people in my life through sport,” said Valles. “We didn’t win overnight. We were recruited young. You set goals and keep positive.”

Valles went to the College of the Sequoias in Visalia and was on their cross country team. He also attended California State University, Bakersfield and was the first person in his family to get higher than a sixth-grade education. 

Valles is now a motivational speaker and speaks at schools all over the world. He also works with students living in low-income neighborhoods.

Valles once participated in a run to End Duchenne at the 2021 New York Marathon and raised about $3,000 to support the cause and is excited to have the opportunity to run again and do it for a cause.

“The first 20 miles are easy,” said Valles. “It’s the last six miles that get you.”

Valles always says we tend to think back and wish we could have done this or that, but we need to enjoy the moment and write our own story. One of the best qualities of Valles is how humble he has stayed no matter how far he’s gone.

“Everybody is important. Especially when you travel, people treat you like you’re important,” said Valles. “My wife reminds me who I am when I get home.”