Luis Vargas stood at the finish line of the NCAA Men’s Cross Country championship on Nov. 22, 2014. He had just become Elon University’s first cross-country All-American with a 25th place finish among the best runners in the United States.
It was the only race all year in which Vargas failed to finish first — the senior won six out of the seven races he competed in during the season.
“It was incredible,” Vargas said of the championship. “I really can’t explain. It was unlike any other race I’ve ever run in. I felt so honored to be there and to represent Elon for the first time. I wish I had another year to compete and do better.”
A decorated 2014 season with the Phoenix included a Southeast Regional Athlete of the Year Award after Vargas won the NCAA Southeast Regional Championship with a time of 30:05:78 in the 10K race. Vargas took home the Colonial Athletic Association Men’s Cross Country Championship.
That was almost four months ago. Luis Vargas is done running — at Elon anyway.
As a student, Vargas has bigger plans he has yet to finish. He plans to graduate in May and intends to continue his post-graduate studies at Elon for the next few years.
“I’m trying to go to graduate school,” he said. “I’m still trying to enjoy what [Elon] and track has to offer me.”
Vargas, primarily a cross country runner, is now spending most of his time running track. After the NCAA Championships, he’s been training with Elon runners and head cross country coach Nick Polk, in preparation for his next competition.
Since Elon does not have a men’s track and field team, Vargas runs independently, albeit that he trains with other runners affiliated with the school.
For Vargas and his own team, it is the North Carolina State Invitational. So far in 2015, he has competed in one organized event in preparation for the race.
“The biggest meet I have to look forward to is the NC State Invitational,” he said. “[As a team], we’re just trying to be the best we can and training to get in shape. I’ve still been training under Coach Polk so hopefully we can represent well.”
The training Vargas does with the track team differs from what he did for cross country. For track, Vargas runs shorter distances and covers a different surface.
The differences between the two events focus mostly on strategy and competitiveness versus speed and getting the best possible time.
“I would say that they differ in the sense that cross country is a bit more of a tactical race since it’s a lot longer and its focused more around competitiveness rather than the time itself,” he said. “In track you tend to focus more on running the fastest time you can every race and get a new personal best time.”
With only three months left until he can no longer compete with the Phoenix, Vargas spoke highly about the experiences and relationships he developed with Elon while reflecting on his storied career.
Rather than basking in the numerous wins and records that he has set, Vargas took a more humble approach to how his best memories were spent.
“Nothing compares to the bond that you make with your teammates.” he said. “These are guys that I will be friends with for the rest of my life. Those were my most cherished memories.”