Victor Neiva will have all of the essentials tucked away in his bag Saturday when the North Texas junior competes in the NCAA national cross country championship.
Neiva will have his shoes, his UNT tank top and a reminder of his heritage. No matter what happens in the 10K race that will take place at The Greiner Family OSU Cross Country Course on the campus of Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Neiva will break out the Brazilian flag.
The Keller native is a dual citizen of the United States and his family’s home country.
“I take a lot of pride in being Brazilian,” Neiva said. “Both of my parents are immigrants. You hear those stories about people coming to America with luggage in each hand and a baby in their arms. That was my family.
“I learned from them how to work hard. The opportunities in this country are amazing. You just have to take advantage of them.”
Neiva has done just that. He excelled at Keller Central before coming to UNT, where he has gradually improved. He finished eighth in the Conference USA Outdoor Championships in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 2021, set the school record in the 10,000-meter run last spring and broke through with one of his best performances at the NCAA South Central Regional Championship in College Station last week.
Neiva finished 10th, one spot away from earning an automatic berth in the national championship race.
The top two teams in each of the nine regional races across the country qualify for the national championship along with 13 at-large teams. The top four runners from each region who are not members of a team that qualified also advance.
Neiva finished fifth among runners who were not on a team that qualified. He endured some tense moments waiting to see how things would play out but received an at-large bid.
Neiva be in a field that includes 31 teams and 38 runners who qualified individually.
“We’re absolutely excited,” UNT cross country coach Erik Stevens said. “The national cross country meet and the NCAA Indoor Championships in track are two of the most prestigious meets to be a part of, especially as an individual in cross country with the qualification process. Making it tells you that you are doing something right.
“I’m happy for him to go out there, put it on the line and compete for an All-American spot.”
The top 40 finishers in Saturday’s race will earn All-America honors.
“I’m super excited,” Neiva said. “It’s been a lot of hard work. Running in the national meet was a goal I set a long time ago. To go out there and represent UNT will be an honor.”
Neiva credits that opportunity largely to his heritage. He often honors his background by draping the Brazilian flag over his shoulders after races.
“I have pride in my home country,” Neiva said. “A big reason I’m the athlete I am today is my heritage. I watched my parents work hard for what we have and am thankful for that. That is what Brazil is all about, working hard and being thankful for what you have while striving to be the best you can be.”
Neiva went home to Brazil every other summer when he was growing up to see his grandparents and cousins. Only Neiva’s immediately family lives in the U.S.
Like a lot of young athletes with ties to Brazil, Neiva started out playing soccer.
“I thought I was going to be the next Neymar,” Neiva said. “One day my soccer coach came to me and told me that I was running more than the ball was moving. He told me I should try cross country. I went to a race and won it.”
Neiva has been working to improve ever since. He credits UNT’s new coaching staff for his growth. Stevens took over UNT’s program shortly after Doug Marshall was hired as director of track and field earlier this year.
“The new staff has absolutely helped me,” Neiva said. “Coach Stevens didn’t have a lot of time to work with us in the offseason, but we adapted quickly.”
That progress has put Neiva in position to compete in Saturday’s national championship race where he’ll represent UNT and Brazil. Neiva will have his flag with him.
“It’s unique,” Neiva said. “You don’t see a lot of Brazilians running track or cross country, let alone run in the United States.
“I love bringing that flag.”