The Donna North High School cross country team had a unique opportunity to hear inspiring words from legendary field and cross country coach Dr. Joe Vigil recently.
The coach famous for his reign at Adams State University in Colorado, was in the Valley for a presentation at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. But thanks to DNHS head cross country coach Basilio Mendoza, Vigil made a surprise appearance at DNHS to visit with Mendoza’s team. Mendoza said he wanted his runners to meet an icon and learn from the man he calls a long-time friend and mentor.
“He is known by many to be the world’s most famous coach,” Mendoza said. “He changed my life from the moment I heard him speak. Hopefully, my runners felt and heard a great message.”
Some of Vigil’s accolades include:
· 14-time National Coach of the Year in both track and field and cross country,
· 19 national championships,
· 17-time international coach,
· 2 U.S. Olympic team appearances at the Seoul 1988 and Beijing 2008 Games, and
· Coaching 22 Olympians and 7 gold medalists.
Vigil admitted he did not know he was going to speak to the DNHS students but quickly warmed up to them. “I always start by telling them that they are God’s children and that everyone of God’s children has talent,” Vigil said. “It’s their job to get under somebody’s wing – a leader, coach or teacher who can help them develop their passion. They may not know they have talent. But you have to teach them to believe in themselves.”
Vigil shared with them many interesting life-learning lessons. “There are no obstacles in life – not poverty, not a lack of education, not anything. There are only challenges. I have runners who started off with zero and ended up making a million dollars a year for four years with their prize earnings and appearance fees. It’s unbelievable. There are no obstacles, anybody can do anything if they dedicate their life to it.”
Vigil pointed to 2013 World Championships bronze medalist Brenda Martinez as an example of someone who overcame challenges. “Her dad is a yard worker in California. They couldn’t afford to buy her running shoes so she would run races in her street shoes and now she’s a medalist in Moscow at the World Championships. She also made the Olympic team. She didn’t know she could do these things but that’s what education is all about. It opens your eyes to what is possible.”
Vigil said mental and physical toughness are also key to being successful. “Diego Estrada tripped over a water bottle during a race. He sprained his ankle but didn’t drop out because he didn’t want to lose his coach. He ended up being the top American out of 53,000 runners so I was proud of what he did. I taught him how to be tough mentally.”
DNHS senior and state qualifier Jennifer Chacon was grateful to have been given the opportunity to hear Vigil speak and even had a little one-on-one time with him. “That was a special moment,” Chacon said. “He’s the greatest coach in the world and I got a little bit of time to be talking with him. He served as an inspiration to all of us runners.”