Anthony Sandoval is the eldest son of an eldest son. He was born on May 19, 1954 in Truchas, N.M., 7,622 feet up in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Sandoval's parents and grandparents lived on a small farm that has been in the family literally since time out of mind. "My grandma's grandma was born in Truchas, which has about 300 people." says Sandoval. "My father's grandfather came from Cordova, which is five miles away. Apparently there was some concern about the wisdom of letting such a distant stranger into the family."
The Sandoval familia is of Spanish and Indian descent, and the life Anthony led as a child was not markedly different from that pursued in these mountains for centuries, not decades. With his grandfather, he plowed, "holding the horses, thinking the sun would never go down." During the winter, every Saturday at dawn the family would take an old truck up the mountain to a place where pi�on might be cut. "You split wood in the morning." says Sandoval. "When it's frozen the pitch is brittle. It pops the wood apart."
In the evenings, young Anthony kept the fire. "There was so much history to be absorbed after dinner, the chistes—jokes from long ago—all the talk in Spanish. In the dry summers of the old times, the town's families used to have to go separate ways, taking the sheep to the springs. Then, later, they got together and built the ditches. Now every spring the ditches must be cleared. They bring the water, the life of the land."
For generations the villagers maintained the life of 16th century Spanish peasantry, preserving or adapting customs as necessary. "There were, and are, penitentes," says Sandoval, "secret fraternities in lieu of priests. The rumors said they would reenact the way of the cross, with scourging and flagellation. I could never see their book of ritual or go in their chapel."
When Anthony was 15, it was decided by his father that he should attend high school in Los Alamos. 30 miles down the mountain, southwest across the Rio Grande and 7,300 feet up the Jemez Mountains. Los Alamos was the site of the laboratory that developed the atomic bomb. When Sandoval came to town there were nearly 500 Ph.D.s out of a population of 15,000. The high school their children attended was appropriately challenging. "It was a trial," says Sandoval. "For one thing, I had an accent you wouldn't believe."
But he also had remarkable native intelligence and a resistance to panic. "When my dad went out to fix a fence, he fixed it." Sandoval says. "And if it took a day or two, if it was rocky, he fixed it well just the same. I simply did that in school."
Weekends he returned to Truchas to help with haying or canning, adhering to the pattern of the farm. And he began cross-country running. "Running fit right in. For the Jemez Indians it's just pure joy, part of their culture," he says. Adding the matter-of-fact discipline of his own culture and a balanced, unforced stride, Sandoval quickly became very good. He won four state championships in cross-country and track.
His grades were good. After graduation he was awarded a scholarship to Stanford. "Going there was hard because I didn't have those weekly times to be back at home," he says. "That first year was painful—six whole months away."
Easing his sense of dislocation was a Stanford coed, Mary Demuth, from Los Alamos, who is now Sandoval's wife. She understood that he was moving in two worlds, with two selves. "He's still Anthony, the Anthony of the farm," she says. "The student pops in as necessary. He's lucky he has kept the Anthony part."
At Stanford, Sandoval ran well but inconsistently. Though light at 5'8", 112 pounds, he had superb natural talent. He did 1:49.5 for 800 meters, and in his senior year, 1976, won the Pac Eight 10,000 with a splendid finish over Sam Kimombwa of Washington State and Kenya. Eight days later he placed fourth in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trial in 2:14:58, seeing his good friend Don Kardong make the team in third after the two had run much of the race beside each other. This tantalizing nearness of Olympic success—especially since Kardong went on to place fourth in Montreal—led Sandoval to vow to continue running for four more years.