As if Arizona in the summer isn’t already unwelcoming, try routinely running 13 miles in 105 degrees. That on-another-level training became habit for Cibola (Yuma, Ariz.) track star Bernie Montoya, who’d attempt to outrun the furnace starting at 5:45 a.m.
Montoya’s diligence was evidenced last season with his 5,000-meter state performance of 15:14.23, propelling him into Arizona prep history books as the first in state history to capture his third state cross country title.
Impressed? We are. And that’s why Montoya kicks off our Ultimate Athlete profile series.
For the next eight months, we’re spotlighting cases deemed Ultimate Athlete-worthy as part of an ongoing, interactive discussion about what sport supersedes the rest. Check in for athlete profiles, smack talk, training videos and more, culminating with the crowning of the Ultimate Athlete.
Montoya, an Arizona State signee, hardly stops at three straight cross country titles. He recently wrapped his high school running career by winning three state track titles in the 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter races.
Point to Montoya’s 800-meter race for grounds as to why he could be deemed an Ultimate Athlete. After the first lap, he was behind seven runners but unleashed bullet speed during the second lap and distanced himself from the pack as he crossed the line in 1:50.19, a new prep state record and the second-best time in the U.S.
Fortunately, Montoya didn’t run away from our spotlight. Check out the convo that went down.
Q: You played football your freshman year. When did running enter the picture?
Montoya: I fell in love with football in sixth grade. I wanted to do high school tackle football. I had a lot of expectations going into the season. For every freshman, football is the thing. I had a really tough time starting. It was kind of frustrating because I wanted to do something in the sport, but actually make an impact.
Naturally, football practice involved a lot of sprints. Here I am, just screaming through these workouts. The coaches noticed and went to Chris Norton and told him there’s a kid you really have to take a look at.
Q: When you fell into running, what about it did you find intriguing?
Montoya: A lot of good rewards can come out of it as long as you work hard. You’re able to be competitive with yourself — that’s what I like about it.
Q: Tell me about your running development. How have you changed?
Montoya: I have less pain now since my freshman year. As a freshman, you’re growing, you get pains in your knees, fatigue. I was probably more injury-prone, but that’s what happens when you’re getting into a new sport. Sophomore and junior years I started to notice a difference — I didn’t feel pain. I was growing into my body and becoming a runner. That maturity comes with time.
Q: Running shoes are vital shields that can carry significance well after you retire a pair. Tell me about yours.
Montoya: You go through a journey with your shoes. I have a hard time letting go of something that meant a lot to me. You train in those shoes, you’ve gotten through stuff in those shoes, you been to places in those shoes. It’s kind of hard to throw them away. I have about 10 to 12 [old] pairs. Sometimes I throw them on to go to the grocery store.
Q: Your sophomore year your shoe fell off during the 1,600-meter race at the state meet. A nightmare, no doubt, but you still managed to win the title.
Montoya: It was one of the craziest performances I’d ever done. A couple seconds after crossing the finish line, I thought ‘Here comes the burn’. I didn’t want to look at it. The whole skin was peeled off. The trainer had to cut it. I wrapped it and had to keep it elevated. It took four weeks to recover. I could walk after two weeks. I huffed and puffed for a couple of days, but it could have been worse.
Q: Next up for you, Arizona State come fall — a running level to certainly forward to. What do you imagine your life would be like if you weren’t a runner?
Montoya: It would have been tough to get into college financially. My parents would have tried to send me to college either way. I think maybe I wouldn’t have taken school so seriously. Running is motivation. I love to run. I have to do well in school. It definitely keeps me motivated to do well in the classroom and be a better and respectful person. It would have been a whole different life.
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