Regardless of his results, Elon University senior Luis Vargas is constantly striving to be the best he can be both on and off the cross country course. He is one of the fastest runners in the country, but it’s his trust in his coach and teammates that puts him ahead of the pack.
“Having the support from my team helps a lot,” Vargas said. “Having them cheer out there [on race days] and knowing that I have them to back me up is the driving force to not giving up during the race.”
Vargas has won all four events he’s competed in this year and has garnered four CAA Runner of the Week awards. He’s setting himself up for an All-American honor during his last year in a Phoenix uniform.
Vargas competed at the NCAA Pre-Nationals Oct. 18 and finished first with a time of 24:20.3 in the 8K men’s white run. Although his time was four seconds slower than his personal best, he held the eighth-fastest time among all men’s races at the tournament.
He also won the Elon Invitational Sept. 13, the Adidas Challenge Sept. 19 and the Notre Dame Invitational Oct. 3.
Head coach Nick Polk has been pleasantly surprised by how much Vargas has grown over the course of the past two months.
“Every week, I have my idea of what he’ll do at the national level, and it gets about 10 spots higher than I thought it was going to be the week before,” Polk said. “He continues to improve and impress everybody around the country.”
Vargas said he’s happy to receive CAA honors and recognition, but he is concentrated on the task at hand.
“My main focus is making sure our team does its best,” Vargas said.” After that, I’ll have my eyes set on Regionals, placing there and hopefully going to Nationals.”
As he prepares for the CAA Championships, which is scheduled to take place Nov. 1 in Boston, he inspires his teammates to follow in his footsteps.
“I say this at practice, ‘If you want to know how to be good, look at Luis,’” Polk said. “Luis loves Elon and runs as hard as he can for Elon, for me and for his teammates. That’s something that’s really hard to coach. It’s really a natural benefit that he has inside of him that makes him a better runner.”
While some players may focus purely on self-improvement, Vargas invests himself into a team mentality. After finishing a race, he’ll offer support to everybody else.
Off the track, Vargas can be found at the campus dining halls eating and talking with his teammates. On the weekends, he will occasionally play board games and watch movies at his teammates’ homes.
Senior teammate Ari Rothschild has had the opportunity to get to know Vargas over the course of his time at Elon and form a strong relationship with him.
“We’ve just become better and better friends on the course and off,” Rothschild said. “It’s been great to work with him these last four years.”
According to Vargas, his relationship-oriented approach to success stems from his family background. Because he is close to his parents, siblings and immediate family, he learned how to communicate well with loved ones. His genuine care for others transferred into his college running career.
“I’m out there every day with the guys,” Vargas said. “They’re my family. I’ve grown so close to them.”
Despite Vargas’ success thus far in the season, he often overworks himself. Since he constantly looks for areas that need improvement, Polk has to find the balance between pushing Vargas to be one of the best runners in the country and making time for him to rest.
“He always wants to do as much as possible, and my coaching of him is more so not letting him do all that he wants to do,” Polk said. “Finding that line between pushing Luis to be one of the top guys in the country, but not pushing him so hard that he ends up injured or sick [is the challenge].”
Vargas said it’s difficult to believe how fast his time at Elon has passed. Nevertheless, he has established goals that he’d like to accomplish after graduation.
After the season, Vargas plans to continue training with Polk in order to build on his achievements.
“Right now, I’m an accounting major, and hopefully I can go to grad school to get my master’s in accounting or business,” Vargas said.