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A RACE TO STAY IN ONE PLACE; NOTRE DAME'S MADRID CONSIDERS TEAMMATES TO BE PRIMARY FAMILY.

Byline: Kirby Lee Special to the Daily News

Johnny Madrid has been preoccupied with more than just running in the days leading up to Saturday's state cross country championships. For the Notre Dame High senior, a place to stay has been day to day.

Madrid's life changed at age 10. In 1993, his mother and an aunt were killed by a drunk driver in an automobile accident. His father had died before he was born.

For the last six years, Madrid has lived in 19 foster homes. Last year, he was shuffled through six different homes. The average stay has been four months; some are less than a week.

``I am never sure when I am going to have to move,'' Madrid said. ``So many times. I have thought, `This home is so great,' and it doesn't work out. I've learned to be reserved in my affection and tried not to become too attached. I have trained myself to be prepared to move.''

Madrid spends very little time in his current home in Pacoima. He arises at 4 a.m. to make the two-hour bus ride to Notre Dame for 6 a.m. cross country practice. Although he receives a scholarship for tuition and books at Notre Dame, Madrid must work several nights a week as a host at a restaurant in Studio City to pay for running shoes and school supplies.

At times while working late, his first bus has run behind schedule, causing him to miss his final connection. He has been forced to walk the final eight miles home with his book-crammed backpack and bulky gym bag. It is often well past midnight before Madrid arrives home, only to began his daily ritual again a few hours later.

``We all try to help when we can and drive, but it is not very much because everybody is going a different way,'' Notre Dame coach Bob Macias said. ``When he is late for practice, we wait because we know he is on his way. We sit back and talk about how amazing he is. But more often than not, he is there and on time.''

After his mother died, Madrid was taken in by a church pastor. For the next two years, he lived with families of friends and teachers as far away as Riverside.``Sometimes I am so dead tired when I get home,'' Madrid said. ``It is hard to schedule all the activities with studying and sleeping time, but I can't relent. It has been an odyssey.''

In 1995, Madrid became eligible for foster care after becoming a ward of the L.A. County Department of Family and Children Services as an eighth grader when he was at Maclay Middle School in Pacoima. It hasn't always been a change for the better in licensed foster homes. Madrid said many of his foster parents have abused the monthly stipend intended for Madrid's food, clothing and lodging.

``Too often, I feel like I have dollar signs over my head,'' Madrid said. ``People become foster parents for the wrong reasons. There is tension and no sense of warmth. There is tons of frustration. There are moments when I feel real lonely and baseless. Most of my foster homes have been like a Motel 6, places where I just ate and slept. ``Places where I have never desired to stay long within their problem-infested walls.''

One foster parent locked food in her room for a week to starve Madrid and threw his clothes to their dogs for toys. In another home, Madrid had $50 stolen by a foster sibling and biological son while they were high on marijuana.

One had its license revoked for underfeeding and spying on its foster children in the showers. Madrid left others because they were opposed to him coming home late because of extracurricular activities.

Wendy Perleta, a case worker for the Penny Lane Foster Family Agency in North Hills, said Madrid's plight is common. Perleta and Madrid meet once a week to help iron out conflicts.

``Teen-agers are the hardest age group to find homes for,'' said Perleta, herself a foster child. ``No one wants a teen-ager. Most parents don't even want their own teen-agers.''

The Notre Dame cross country team has helped fill the void with invitations for dinner and social outings. The squad also selected Madrid as a team captain.

He went out for the team as a sophomore to train for the L.A. Marathon. As a junior, Madrid helped the Knights reach the state championships for the first time. This season, Notre Dame captured its first league title since 1977 and repeated its third-place finish in the Southern Section Division IV final to earn a berth in Saturday's state championship at Woodward Park in Fresno.

``They are like my family to me,'' Madrid said. ``I enjoy the camaraderie. The team relies on each other for a sport so individualistic.''

Madrid has found an identity at Notre Dame, where he was recently voted homecoming king. He maintains a 4.22 grade-point average in addition to serving as activities commissioner and cadet commander of the Civil Air Patrol.

Last summer, Madrid attended the prestigious Stanford Youth Environmental Science Project. Madrid, who will become the first member of his family to graduate from high school, plans to attend Stanford next fall to pursue a career as a lawyer.

Last Thanksgiving, Madrid organized a food drive to help feed more than 150 families. This year, he has worked on a survey of foster teen-ager impressions of the L.A. County foster system as part of a project funded by the Youth Law Center in San Francisco. He plans to publish the results this spring in hopes of giving teen-agers a louder voice in the quality of the foster care system.

``I knew he was different,'' Perleta said. ``He has that drive. You can see it in his eyes. He wants to make it and be an example in the system. He tries to keep himself busy to forget all he has been through. This is therapy for him.''

Madrid appears to have found stability in his present foster home. He has stayed with the family of Jose and Maria Gallegos since May, sharing a room with another foster child. The Gallegos said Madrid is a role model for their four biological children but are worried about his well being with his hectic schedule.

The Gallegos were Madrid's first foster parents to attend his cross country races and they also took him on a trip to Mexico. He hopes to stay with the Gallegos until he graduates from Notre Dame in June and is emancipated the foster care system. At that time, he will be left to support himself.``I'll be looking to survive, but it doesn't really scare me,'' Madrid said.

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos

Photo: (1) Notre Dame cross country captain Johnny Madrid has lived in 19 foster homes - many painful experiences - after his mother and aunt were killed in an auto accident in 1993.

(2) ``It has been an odyssey,'' Johnny Madrid says of his daily schedule that goes from early morning to midnight at times.

Kirby Lee/Special to the Daily News
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 27, 1998
Words:1201
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