The past, present and future of Carlos Villarreal
Carlos Villarreal has an impressive past running for the University of Arizona and Mexico, a focused present as he trains for races and a promising future with his speed, drive and resilience.
Villarreal is on his fifth year at Arizona and it is his last season competing as an Arizona Wildcat. Villarreal started his freshman year off with an injury and nobody could have predicted then what he has done now. Villarreal has obtained a personal record of 3:57.27 in the mile, an NCAA All-American indoors title, a gold medal in the Pan American 1500m championship and still has the rest of the year to showcase his speed.
During the Pan American Games, Villarreal represented Mexico, the country where he was born. This was the first time Villarreal had worn the green and red Mexican flag on his chest, and he wore it with pride. In fact, this was the first international competition Villarreal has competed in. He was pleased to meet people on the Mexican national team whose running careers he’d grown up following from a distance. As if competing in the Pan American games wasn’t astonishing enough for Villarreal, his finish proved more so.
“I was honestly hoping for a top-five finish," Villarreal said. "The race was really stacked. There were a lot of individuals there that had the capacity to win. I think the American was the clear favorite going in. There was actually another guy from Canada there that had beaten me at the Pac-12 Championships, so going into the race, there was a lot of uncertainty about how fast we were going to go out, and for me, my personal goal was to get in the top five and maybe get a medal.”
Villarreal’s hope to “maybe get a medal” became reality as he crossed the finish line in first place, giving him the Pan American Champion title. This win now puts fear into the hearts of his competition for Villarreal’s final collegiate season.
Villarreal even contended for a national title.
"Last year, I kind of surprised myself with being able to compete at the highest level," Villarreal said, "and I even ended up being able to come away with an All-American indoors, so this year I’d like to raise that up a gear and hopefully win a national title whether it’s indoor, outdoor or both in the 1500 or whatever race that may be and get the Olympic standard for Tokyo.”
Besides title races like the NCAA’s and Pac-12’s, races to look forward to this year for Villarreal will be against Oliver Hoare from Wisconsin, Waleed Suliman from Ole Miss and George Kusche from Nebraska. Villarreal name-dropped all of these men regarding who he is most excited to race and battle it out with on the track.
“Hopefully we can all do some damage,” Villareal said.
Luckily for Villarreal, doing damage in races is typical, which is why it was hard for him to pinpoint which race has been his favorite, but he narrowed it down to the first time he broke four minutes in a mile.
“That was my big goal coming into UA, but with my injury freshman year, I was worried if I would even be able to race, so to be able to go from coming in and wanting to break that mile to getting injured and not knowing if that was possible anymore, and then bouncing back and making that happen a year later was probably what made it my favorite race,” Villarreal said.
Another favorite memory that stays with Villarreal is his spring break trip to Sedona. While many Arizona Wildcats were driving down to his hometown of Puerto Peñasco, Villarreal and his teammates decided to drive up and camp out in the red rocks. They woke up in the morning and realized, however, that a lot of them conveniently forgot their running shoes.
“So we were out there running in, like, chacos and just really bad shoes you should not be running in, but it was a really fun experience. On top of that, we got lost," Villarreal said. "So yeah that was probably one of my favorite times. It was an adventurous run I guess.”
After the adventure run, the line, “Remember that time Sam had to run 15 miles in chacos?” became an all-around favorite among the runners. Villarreal has acquired many favorites over his years at the UA due to his constantly growing love for the Arizona sports community.
“The people and the support we have is one of the greatest things about Arizona," Villarreal said on what he will miss most about the Arizona sports program. "The support we have isn’t comparable. It comes from either the coaching staff, the training staff, people in the weight room, and other teams. The people here are second to none. Everyone is helpful and wants the best out of you and I don’t know how many programs have that same friendly, approachable atmosphere to it. All the sports support everyone else. It’s a big community I will definitely miss. It’s sort of crazy walking down the hall and being congratulated from the men’s tennis coach on a great summer. It means a lot seeing that other coaches, even from different programs, are taking notice in the stuff we do."
Because so many people in the Arizona sports community have been following Villarreal’s glowing running career, it’s often a wonder on how the community will be able to follow him after his time at the UA and what it is he will be doing next year.
“After this year, I hope to take my running career a step further and run professionally. If I can make the Olympic games this upcoming summer, that would be a huge plus, but definitely to make some world teams and Olympic teams in the future, so that is the goal,” Villarreal said.
Overall, Villarreal has a past, present and future that embodies an elite athlete. He works to make his country and college proud because they morphed him into the athlete he is today. It will be bittersweet for Arizona fans to watch him compete this last year in a Wildcat uniform, but it’s clear collegiate running is not the end to Villarreal’s racing career.