That is precisely why Sandoval is making another Olympic bid. He was fourth at the 1976 trials, first in the '80 trials and sixth at the trials in '84. In 1988, deep into his medical career and woefully unprepared, he ran 2:22:37 and finished back in the anonymous pack. That halfhearted effort, and the niggling near misses preceding it, couldn't be ignored. Before he crossed the finish line, Sandoval's wife, Mary, knew what was coming.
"I fully expected him to try again," says Mary. "Anthony can't do any job, even the most mundane thing, without finishing it and finishing it right."
The Sandovals made two decisions. The '92 effort would be as focused as possible. It would have to be.
"Back in 1980 we were a lot younger," says Mary. "The future was still coming." She shakes her head and laughs. "This is it. We cannot do this again."
And so, last June, Sandoval pared back his cardiology schedule and moved Mary and their five children from Albuquerque to Los Alamos, N.Mex. He makes the 93-mile trip to Albuquerque by car two days a week and spends the rest of his time in Los Alamos, a town of 18,500 that was the site of the development of the first atomic bomb. The town rests on mesas at 7,200 feet. The Jemez Mountains, which flank the west side of town, jut up to 11,254 feet. The mountains are laced with rugged trails. The air is thin. Drawing a breath on the run is like sucking taffy through a straw. It is a wonderful place to train for the marathon.
Happy coincidence, because this fact had little to do with the Sandovals' coming here. This is home. Mary grew up in Los Alamos. Anthony went to high school here. To the east of the mesas, across the washed flat-lands of the Rio Grande Valley, are the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Within their folds is Truchas, Anthony's father and the family farm. Anthony refers to it as "the place"—where he grew up; where he and his five siblings split piñon on brittle winter mornings; where they walked the summer mountains tending cattle and pitched hay well past dusk, banging their heads on the barn rafters in the half-light. It was also home to a lively, and one-sided, porcine rodeo, the little Sandovals hitching up their britches and straddling the family pigs for the ride of their lives. "We'd hold on to their ears while they'd run squealing in and out of the trees trying to scrape us off," says Anthony, grinning. "The pigs always won." For Anthony, Truchas is the center of the universe.
"For generations and generations both Mom's and Dad's families were from Truchas or the surrounding little communities," says Sandoval. "They grew up working hard and they died working hard and they believed real hard. That's very important to me. That's one of the things that makes me struggle so much."
Truchas also instilled a firm sense of priorities. Sandoval has struggled mightily in both medicine and running, but never at the expense of what really matters.
Dinnertime at the Anthony Sandovals'. The assembled energy rivals anything Robert Oppenheimer ever cooked up. Strung out around a repast of homemade enchiladas are Magdalena, 10; Miguel, 7; Marisa, 5; Analisa, 3; and Benigno, 8 months. Blue eyes and blond heads fill the room. Sandoval, who is brown-haired, is of Spanish and Native American descent. He may have the recessive gene, but he also has the last word. "My blue-eyed gringitos," he calls them.
Analisa, an energetic sprite who will shed her clothes at a moment's notice, bobs dangerously close to her water glass. Sensing a need for distraction, Sandoval asks her to say the dinner prayer. Everyone joins hands. Analisa gathers herself and blurts out everything she is thankful for, namely the family rabbits and the fact that the community pool is open this Saturday.