College: Vasquez making his mark

Former Balers standout Omar Vasquez was the top runner on the Holy Names cross-country team this past season.

When things didn’t work out for Omar Vasquez at Colorado Mesa University last spring, it looked as if his running career was over. The former San Benito High cross country and track standout competed for Colorado Mesa’s track team in the 2015 season, but for various reasons the college wasn’t the right fit.
When Vasquez returned home to Hollister in the spring, his future was uncertain. But hope sprung eternal in the form of a running camp in late July at Mammoth Lakes, where Vasquez met Holy Names men’s cross-country coach Randy Rau.
“My friends told me to go to the camp, but I really didn’t want to go,” Vasquez said. “I changed my mind at the last minute and I’m glad I did. Who knows what would’ve happened if I didn’t attend the camp? I probably would be running by myself.”
Now he’s running for Division II Holy Names, which is a private university in Oakland. Vasquez recently completed a stellar junior season, highlighted by an 18th-place finish in the Pacific West Conference Championships on Oct. 24. Vasquez ran the 8K (4.97 miles) course at Riverside in a personal-record 25 minutes, 33.65 seconds.
Vasquez’s time was the third fastest in school history, and it landed him a spot on the Pac-West All-Conference third team.
“I felt confident the week of the race and felt smooth in our workouts (leading up to the race),” he said. “I told myself to stay patient and work my way up. I felt better as the race went on.”
It showed. Vasquez powered to the end, leading Holy Names to a solid seventh-place finish. The 2012 San Benito High graduate ran for two years at Hartnell under renowned coach Chris Zepeda before transferring to Colorado Mesa. However, Vasquez felt out of sorts, and he left after just one semester not knowing how his future would unfold.
“I was just confused and wanted to come back home,” he said. “I still wanted to run for a school (but there didn’t seem to be any options).”
At Colorado Mesa, Vasquez said he had a lifetime best of 4:01 in the 1,500-meter run. That gives an indication of Vasquez’s talent, but it’s the consistency of his workouts combined with his desire to never quit that have brought him this far. During his peak training, Vasquez said he logged up to 80 miles a week.
“It was an amazing feeling leading the team all year,” he said. “The highlight of my season was the conference championship and seeing my times drop from the beginning of the season to the end.”
Vasquez grew up watching his oldest brother, Rigo, run for the San Benito High cross country teams and later at Hartnell College and San Jose State.
“I got motivated after watching my brother in his meets,” Vasquez said. “That’s what got me started, just seeing him run and wanting to be like him. That’s why I ran cross country and track at my middle school (Maze).”
Vasquez isn’t the most talented runner around—as a senior in high school he finished a modest 31st in the Division I boys race of the Central Coast Section Championships—but he learned the value of hard work by watching Rigo put in the miles year after year. Now he’s the No. 1 runner for a solid Division II program.
“I’ve never been great, but I’ve never given up,” he said. “I’ve always stuck with it and worked hard all my life.”

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