Whether Mariah Cruz is running on her own, or with her Pima Aztec teammates, there’s an injury that’s followed her.

“I was thirteen months old when I first had the incident,” said Cruz.

Mariah was just over one year old when she suffered third and fourth degree burns from boiling water in a bathtub. Her right foot was most seriously injured, requiring multiple surgeries.

“Because I was burned so young, my feet were tiny,” said Cruz. “They scarred in a way that was really uncomfortable.”

Despite the damage to her foot, Mariah took up up what might be the unlikeliest of sports.

“I love running. It never stopped me.”

It wasn’t just running, but competitive running.

“In middle school, I picked up distance for cross country, and I just fell in love with it.”

Mariah’s next steps were at Mountain View High School. It’s where whatever she was feeling in her foot was combined with a winning feeling.

“I was getting personal records,” said Cruz. “I had a great cross country season my senior year of high school.”

Pima cross country head coach Mark Bennett had not idea Mariah was a burn victim, no less on her foot.

“Just watching her determination during the race, and the ferocity she brought into the competition, I saw that and I had to to have her on the team,” said Bennett.

However, Mariah had started to feel pain again. And, if she was going to run at Pima on scholarship, she knew she might have to have another surgery to release the tension in her scarring.

“My toe was bent and dislocated,” said Cruz. “I ran with that for 16 years and I finally couldn’t bear the pain anymore.”

Mariah had a successful surgery. She is sharing her picture, and her story.

“If more people know, the more motivation it will help other people not feel alone.”

She’s also not afraid to show her foot in public, something she once says caused bullying. And, Mariah is putting her best foot forward by spending time at Camp Courage in Prescott, which is designed to provide a safe environment for young Arizona burn victims.

“So many people came up to me and some cried to me saying how encouraging and inspiring it was,” said Cruz. “It comes back to having a full circle moment because they’ve done so much for me and I just can’t wait to give back to them.”

Mariah is now beginning her career at Pima College pain free. She’s a cross country runner who’s overcome an uphill battle.

“She’s a great example of showing that regardless of where you come from or what your situation was, you can still accomplish your dreams and goals and still be influential,” said Bennett.

“I have a story,” said Cruz. “And, I just use it for motivation. It fuels me. I want to do better ever time. I have people looking at me and I want to inspire.”

Mariah says she wants to work with the Arizona Burn Foundation after she completes her education.