Near the end of an practice on the Montezuma-Cortez High School soccer field last August, Jelson Yanez stood near a goalpost and quivered with fatigue. Sweat dripped from the senior’s face and his legs shook with exhaustion.
Despite his tired muscles, the senior pushed forward however, utilizing a unique inner strength that he developed while growing up in Honduras, which, an average per capita income of $600 dollars per year, ranks among the most impoverished nations in North America.
First-world amenities were far from a given in Yanez’s home city of Flores de Italia and with gangs roaming the streets and shootings a common occurrence, bodily safety was far from guaranteed.
One of 12 children born to Spanish-speaking parents, Yanez began playing soccer at a young age and because of a rare combination of size and speed, he instantly excelled as a goal scoring forward at the local fields on which he played.
“Soccer is the main sport in Honduras,” Yanez said. “The level of soccer is good, but it’s not like in other countries like Spain or Brazil. It was the sport that I played growing up.”
After spending the majority of his youth and three of his teenage years in his home country, Yanez moved, along with his mother and several siblings, to Cortez during his sophomore year of high school.
Not especially proficient in English, yet exceptionally bright and willing to learn, Yanez immediately caught the eye of several teachers, who instantly appreciated their young pupil’s hard work and dedication.
Even with his success in the classroom however, Yanez’s life in Southwest Colorado was far from easy as he initially grappled with the language barrier and the unfamiliarity of small-town life.
“To be honest, when I came (to Cortez) the first time, I didn’t like it,” Yanez said. “It is a much smaller town than what I am used to.”
Searching for something familiar to occupy his time, Yanez elected to join the M-CHS soccer team, which at the time was coached by Sean Fitzgerald.
Playing alongside several other Spanish-speaking players, including Jesus Ruiz and Mannie Martinez, and instantly bonding with his new head coach, Yanez became increasingly comfortable. By the end of the season, he had become one of his team’s most reliable defenders.
Yanez went on to record a goal and an assist during his junior season before scoring another goal and putting 10 shots on goal during his senior year. In addition to his shooting prowess, Yanez emerged as a team leader thanks to his nonstop hustle and physical style of play.
“I don’t feel like I’m playing as good as I could because the style here is different, and it’s hard for me to communicate with my teammates because of my English,” Yanez said. “I just try to work hard and give 100 percent to my team.”
In addition to his accomplishments on the soccer field, Yanez has brought a special flair to the classroom, where he excels in science classes, including anatomy and biology.
Asked about his plans for the future, Yanez said that he is planning to return to Honduras after his high school graduation to begin studying at the National Autonomous University of Honduras in hopes of one day becoming a cardiologist.
“I like to help people, and my country needs a lot of help,” Yanez explained. “The political situation is not good. Our leader is almost like a dictator, and he is not helping the country. There are a lot of gangs and a lot of killings, so there is a need for doctors.”
Between now and the time that he departs Cortez, Yanez plans to cherish his time with his mother and siblings, who, together, provide support and meaning in his life.
“Family is very important to me,” Yanez said. “I can do anything because of them.”