Carlos Villarreal, along with the rest of his teammates, was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the Indoor Championships were being held, when they received the news that the NCAA had canceled all athletic events across the country for the foreseeable future. The feeling of ending your senior season so abruptly could best be described as dropping the baton on the final turn of a relay race. The pain is insurmountable.
The cancellation of NCAA sports was one of the final dominoes to fall, as other conferences and organizations had already begun to shut down their operations as a basic safety precaution. The Ivy League, along with the ACC and the Big 10, had withdrawn their schools from the meet just a day after the NBA suspended its 2019-20 season until further notice. The Pac-12 had also canceled its men’s basketball tournament earlier in the day.
“While the news was heartbreaking, it was not shocking as things had slowly deteriorated leading up to that point,” Villarreal said in an email.
Competition within the sport was as high as it has ever been, with 10 NCAA records being broken within the last year, two of which were in 2020. This season was also supposed to serve as a proving ground before the 2020 Summer Olympics for athletes hopeful of representing their country on the biggest stage possible, Villarreal being one of them.
“The NCAA was incredibly deep this year so I really looked forward to throwing down with the best the NCAA had to offer one last time before I graduated,” Villarreal said.
But the pill of putting his dreams to the side was too big to swallow. Villarreal is still determined to accomplish one of his life-long goals, which is to break the four-minute mile in Tucson on his own, self-created, senior day.
“The idea to have my own senior day just occurred to me while I was still in denial of how my entire season had been canceled,” he said. “The idea was that, ‘Yeah, meets may be cancelled but everyone’s competitive spirits remained.’”
Running the mile in under four minutes is something that Villarreal has done four times in his collegiate career but never in his home state. To put into perspective of how difficult that is, the average time for an Olympic runner in the men’s 5000 meters is 13 minutes and 25 seconds which converts to four minutes and 13 seconds per mile. To accomplish a time of under four minutes, you would need to run each lap in under a minute, keeping a consistent pace without slowing down.
The only thing standing in his way now is the COVID-19 safety regulations, which Villarreal is more than willing to cooperate with. Since he is currently not allowed to use his own track or meet in-person with anyone, Villarreal says he plans on running the mile at a later date with head coach Fred Harvey holding the stopwatch.
“At whatever time and date we have clearance, I will be there,” Harvey said in an email.
Villarreal even hopes to celebrate his senior day with a few of his teammates and friends.
“Why have just one sub-four-minute mile in Tucson, when you can have ten, all on the same night?" he said.
To compensate for the spring season being cut short, the NCAA has granted another year of eligibility to spring athletes, meaning Villarreal will have the option of competing in an Arizona uniform in 2021. He hasn’t made that decision yet, but said that he has looked into UA’s master’s programs if he does decide to come back.
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