Imagine having no recollection of your biological parents, moving through 20 to 30 foster homes, attending four different high schools and still making it to Capitol Hill.
Estakio Beltran did it. His passion for raising awareness on the issue of child abuse has fueled his decision to run in the Toronto Marathon on Oct. 16 to raise money for the nonprofit organization Childhelp.
Beltran, 27, has worked for Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.) for five years and serves as his senior legislative assistant on children and family issues.
He grew up in Washington state’s foster care system; his earliest memories are from his time in foster care, and he stayed in the system until he turned 18.
The 26.2-mile race will be a first for Beltran, who excelled in gymnastics in high school and college. He attributes his success to participating in sports and to adult mentors in his life, such as his coaches and teachers. He is also grateful for the Jesuit community, which supported him as he struggled to make sense of his circumstances during high school.
“I found a church that was connected with the Jesuit community,” Beltran said. “They welcomed my questions and challenged me to keep wrestling with my faith and didn’t just give me feel-good answers.”
This influence played a role in his decision to attend Gonzaga University, a Jesuit school in Spokane, Wash. As he studied for a bachelor’s degree in psychology and applied communications, he worked full time to supplement scholarships he had won, including one from the Orphan Foundation of America. He was also on the school’s gymnastics team and was a 2001 state champion in vaulting.
Beltran said his childhood in foster care was challenging but that he didn’t know at the time that life could be different.
“I don’t know because there wasn’t a significant dip. You didn’t know that there was anything better, right? I didn’t know that this was a low point. This was just my life,” he said.
He remembers it as an unstable and uncertain time with frequent moves. The moves weren’t always a matter of choice; the foster care system is constantly struggling to accommodate all of the children who need homes. “You just feel like you’ve fallen through the cracks,” he said.
He buoyed his spirit by finding happiness in prosaic moments. “One day, someone was going to compliment you on your shoes, as crappy as they may be, and the next day you get a good grade on an assignment,” he said. “And that was enough to get you through the next week.”