When Cindy Buenrostro was 5 and first went to school, she pretended to be sick, so she could see the nurse.
But she wasn't sick. Not in the traditional sense.
"She wanted to tell the nurse she'd been abused," said her mother, Liz. "It's made her really strong."
Cindy's admission landed her and her two sisters in foster care. Two years later, Liz and Mauricio Buenrostro brought the three girls home and ultimately adopted Cindy, then 9, and her younger sister, Jaci, then 5. Her older sister, then a teenager, declined to be adopted.
Cindy is now 14, and she has taken that strength – and plenty of focus and dedication – and channeled it toward a dream. A part of the USA Pentathlon program, Cindy will compete at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs beginning June 22 for a chance to represent the U.S. at the Pentathlon Junior World Cup in Ireland later this summer.
"I hope that I get to 2020," Buenrostro said of the Olympic Games set for Tokyo. "I can show people that stayed with me and led me that I can do it. I can see myself on TV and people I know will be saying, 'I know her.'"
Since Buenrostro qualified for a shot at a spot on the U.S. Youth and Junior teams in December, she and her family have put together a team that would surely be happy to see her reach her goal. Pentathlon, which involves fencing, swimming, running, shooting and horseback riding, has led the Buenrostros to myriad trainers, coaches and advisors. Kenny Lawson, a professional horse trainer in Valley Center, California, is among those who have worked with Cindy.
"She's very dedicated, she's a quick study," he said. "She's always so serious. She would come and there weren't a lot of fun and games. She would want to get to work. Oftentimes, I'd be done with the lesson and she'd want to continue."
It's that kind of commitment that anyone with an Olympic dream must have. While the Buenrostros are embracing Cindy's interest in pentathlon with both arms, they didn't even know about the sport until a few years ago.
"Cindy was on the (local) swim team, but we never really had this dream for her," said Mauricio, who trained with the Mexican national volleyball team in his youth. "When we told (the swim team) Cindy might miss some events because she does Pony Club, the coach there suggested" we investigate pentathlon.
The sport turned out to be a great fit – Liz grew up with horses and the family has stables at home and she's interested in fencing while Mauricio has an interest in shooting.
"I love fencing and Mauricio loves shooting, so it's really a family event," Liz said.
Pat Duffy, who runs West Coast Pentathlon, the camp at which Cindy qualified to start her Olympic dream, says Cindy's experience in riding gives her a leg up in her Olympic quest. For many pentathletes, riding is a weak spot, although athletes don't have to be at the top of their game in all five sports to compete.
"Cindy is one step ahead of the game because she had the riding," Duffy said. "You don't have to be really good at everything, but you do have to be strong in at least three sports" to excel.
No matter what the specialty, it takes a unique athlete to master the five sports required for competition.
"This designation gives her an open door to compete and that is more or less the ticket to go to the world championships," Duffy said. "(Pentathletes) are like very young professional athletes and they are determined. They just want to achieve for themselves and that's the difference between pentathlon and single-sport athletes."
When Cindy attended the West Coast Pentathlon camp in December 2015, it was the first time she'd competed in all five disciplines on the same day. In preparation, she trained in all of the sports at least once a week and more often in several, including horseback riding, as her family has horses at their Southern California home.
"The first day, it was exciting, but exhausting," Buenrostro said. "As I met people who did this, it was fun. I got more comfortable during the week and the days got faster."
Buenrostro got so comfortable, in fact, that Duffy suggested she compete above her age level and she chose to move up two levels to the Youth "A" Division (17-18 year olds). Then 13, Buenrostro competed against older athletes, because the "A" Division is the first that offers international competition. Buenrostro qualified for entry into the Olympic program in both the "A" and "Junior" Divisions (19-21). She'll compete in Colorado Springs – and if she finishes in the top four there, at the World Cup in Limerick, Ireland – in the "A" Division.
"Normally we'd have her compete in both, but this is her first national competition, so if we want her to do well, we don't want her to be tired from first day of competition," Duffy said. "There's no reason to push the envelope."
But Buenrostro is all about "pushing the envelope."
In a nod to her own past in the foster-care system, Buenrostro chose to give back through her eighth-grade community service project, providing San Diego area foster care children the opportunity to get on a horse and try their hands at fencing in late May. The project, required by her school, culminated when her family hosted more than a dozen children and their families at their home.
"She's not afraid to take risks," said Megan Foxley, the teacher who oversaw the project. "It wasn't clear how much of her story would be part of the project until she presented it. Sometimes, you ask kids to do a project like this and they may want to please or be afraid to share what they really like.
"But Cindy? She's a very brave person."