When runner Jonah Vigil settles his fingers on the starting line before a race, he has no pump song or psych phrase playing in his head. "I just clear my mind," said Vigil, a Taos High School senior and a track champion.
Vigil has been named New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame Male High School Athlete of the Year for 2018, a first for a Taos High athlete. He and the 2018 annual award winners in other categories will be honored together with the six 2018 Sports Hall of Fame inductees at the 46th Annual Induction Banquet on April 7 at the Albuquerque Convention Center.
During the 2018 state championship track meet, Vigil won five gold medals - that's one for every event in which he competed. He won the 100 meters in 11.05 seconds, the 200 meters in 21.91 seconds, the long jump with a best-distance of 23.2.75 feet and the 400 meters with a time of 47.59 seconds. He also helped the Taos Tigers 400 meter relay team to victory and the Tigers to their fifth consecutive state championship under head coach Benny Mitchell.
To put these numbers in perspective, his long jump distance is almost the length of three sheets of plywood laid end to end, which is more than the width of many houses. Put another way, take your four best friends who are just shy of 6 feet tall and lie them on the ground, head to foot. Jonah Vigil can jump over them all in one leap.
Vigil's favorite race, the 400 meters, is the nemesis of many track runners. They place their feet in the starting blocks knowing that they are in for a kind of torture. The 400 meters demands that athletes run just about as fast as they can for an entire lap around the track. No rest, no pacing, just the ever-increasing burn in the gluteal muscles as the body begins to run out of short-term fuel. This is the race that Vigil likes, and he's very good at it.
By the 2018 state meet, Vigil and coach Ernest "Ernie" Martinez knew he had a shot at the state record. Preliminary rounds are the day before the finals, which doesn't give the body enough time fully to recover, so Martinez suggested that if Vigil wanted the record for the fastest time ever run at the New Mexico high school state championship meet, he go for it in the preliminary. He did. Vigil set the state record in the preliminary with a time of 47.01 seconds.
At the Marilyn Sepulveda Meet of Champions, Vigil ran a 46.99 second 400, something that no other high school athlete in the state has done before. The current world record in the 400 m is 43.03, held by Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa. The recognized world record was set on July 11, 1924 at the Paris Olympics and belongs to Scotsman Eric Liddell, one of the heroes of the movie "Chariots of Fire" in which this race is depicted. His time was 47.6 seconds.
(For history buffs: Ted Meredith of the U.S. had a 1916 time in the 440-yard dash, which is approximately 402.34 meters, of 47.4 seconds. It was not recognized as the world record by the International Association of Athletics Federations, better known as the IAAF, until it was beaten in 1928 with a time of 47 seconds flat by American Emerson Spencer.)
In the 2018 New Mexico state track and field championship, Vigil won more points than any other athlete. To be the so-called "high point athlete" indicates not only that he was exceptionally good in his events, but that he was exceptionally good in many events.
All told, Vigil has earned 23 medals in his high school career, including a third-place finish at the 2018 New Balance Nationals in the 400-meter race. Recounting the experience Vigil remarked that one of the best things about nationals was that he got to chase people down - not a common experience for Vigil, whose coach designs special team workouts to simulate the experience for him, having other runners sprint shorter distances compared to Vigil.
With running, it's tempting to believe that some people are just fast, a gift from birth, and others aren't. Tempting, but not true. Though the high school track season hasn't started yet, Vigil is already hard at work.
Vigil's love of running started early, tagging along with his older sister while she did her track runs, but the work is ongoing. During the winter he can be found in the weight room. "It really does help with power, explosiveness," he said. Still, wanting something and loving it don't make it easy, and this is where the talented are separated from the champions.
About getting himself to the weight room, Vigil said, laughing, "It's hard sometimes because you don't want to put in the work." But he does.
His dedicated indoor coach Martinez does, too. Winter is indoor season and the only indoor track in New Mexico is in Albuquerque. Once a week, coach Martinez drives from Santa Fe to Taos to pick up Vigil and two other athletes and drive them to the track in Albuquerque. When they're done there, he drives the athletes back to Taos and himself home to Santa Fe.
They make this effort even though they consider the indoor season primarily for training, for "breaking the rust off," as Vigil said.
When the outdoor season arrives a new rhythm of practice will be established. Typically, Mondays and Wednesdays are hard training days, with Tuesday and Thursday for recovery runs. An example of a hard day: 12 repetitions of 400 meters at 72 seconds each.
Between his world-class athleticism and his easygoing humility, it's no wonder that Vigil is being actively recruited for college. By doing well in school, too, he's made it easy for them. As early as eighth grade, Vigil recognized the relationship between physical activity and mental tasks. When he couldn't get his mind to focus on his homework, he'd go to the track near his house, run a few laps, come home and get to work with a clear head.
His ability to keep his mind clear continues to serve him well. He's not distracted by the attention from colleges or even the New Mexico Athletic Hall of Fame.
His goals for the season are scaffolded and strategic: to get slowly into shape, to run a "decent" time in his first race (the time he calls "decent" was a world record 100 years ago) and to shave a second or so off of his 200-meter time.
The first chance to watch Jonah Vigil compete in the 2019 track and field season is the Bernalillo Invite March 9.
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