After keeping the bad guys on the run for more than three decades with the Oceanside Police Department, Ruben Sandoval hasn’t slowed down. He’s never been busier revealing his good-natured soul through his well-worn soles.
“I realized there were kids that would have probably never gravitated to street gangs or drugs if they had some proper guidance or leadership,” Sandoval said. “So I thought this was a way for me to be able to serve the community, but in a different way.”
This way and that way Sandoval jogs and he does so with North County’s youth in mind. Not only is the 72-year-old an accomplished runner, but he wants others to follow suit. Especially the youngsters, who can maybe run away from trouble by turning their energy in the proper direction.
“I just love the sport of running and hopefully I can also help others by introducing them to running,” Sandoval said.
That includes being part of the Oceanside Turkey Trot, the Nov. 22 shindig which is regularly rated as one of the top Thanksgiving runs in the nation. The event raises money for the Move Your Feet Before You Eat Foundation, which disperses funds to area schools and nonprofit organizations for students participating in running programs.
Sandoval is on the foundation’s board and he never gets bored of doing the right thing by lending potentially at-risk kids a hand through his feet.
“It was such a good idea that I wanted to get involved with it after working most of my career on street gangs,” said Sandoval, who retired from OPD in April. “If I could work with the youth I could possibly direct them into something that was positive. I saw the good things Move Your Feet Before You Eat was doing and it was just a good fit for me.”
The trim Sandoval, who still churns out nine-minute miles, isn’t just all-in with the Turkey Trot. He’s also seen trotting around Oceanside’s Roosevelt Middle School as its cross-country coach. He’s a pied piper of sorts, and there are few better men for those students to fall behind and emulate.
“If you don’t get to these kids when they are 9, 10, 11 years old, you have a chance of losing those kids,” he said.
Sandoval’s heart sees the affirmative in everyone, and that includes the men and women he put in jails for running, albeit, afoul of the law. The phone in his Vista home is often ringing, with someone on the other hand aching to share their appreciation of the former Sgt. Sandoval’s caring.
“It’s amazing because they got to know me in my role as a police officer and supervisor of the gang unit,” Sandoval said. “I had to enforce the law but I wanted to still do it in the most humane way as possible. I tried to treat them with respect, even though you were sending them through the legal system.”
Some exited that system reformed and rehabilitated and they often reached out to Sandoval.
“I’ve had men that had been incarnated ask me if they could use me for a reference,” he said. “I really believe it is because I treated them with respect. And maybe, I saw a good side of them and that had an impact. Even though it’s been over 30 years later, I still got those phone calls to this day.”
No day comes and goes without a run, seemingly, for the tireless Sandoval.
“Ruben is an absolute legend,” said Mark LaVake, a former OPD colleague of Sandoval’s. “He knew everything that was going on with the gangs and he was always a very competitive runner. There’s no one like Ruben.”
Running Ruben is more like it and yes, he’s training for another triathlon. Sandoval consistently gobbles up the miles and will be doing just that with family and friends at next month’s Oceanside Turkey Trot.
He’ll be easy to spot on the morning before everyone feasts. Sandoval is always distributing an extra helping of encouragement to those often needing it the most.
Sportswriter Jay Paris has written his “Sports Talk” column since joining the Coast News in 2013.
Paris, a Cardiff resident, is a longtime Southern California writer, getting his start with the Orange County Register before coming to San Diego in 1992 to cover the Chargers.
He had the Chargers beat for more than two decades with Oceanside Blade-Citizen, the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, before being named a sports columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Paris has won numerous awards voted on by his peers in the Pro Football Writers of America. He has also been a staple on countless media platforms, everything from the KPBS to MLB Network and various radio outlets.
Paris is also the author of three books, with his latest one being, “Shohei Ohtani: The Amazing Story Of Baseball’s Two-Way Japanese Superstar.” He has also written “Game Of My Life Chargers” and “Game Of My Life Rams.”
He currently covers the NFL in Los Angeles for Forbes. com and is a contributor to USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow Jay on Twitter @jparis_sports